Greg Mayo Band at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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

GregMayo

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

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

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

GregMayoSinging

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

GregMayoKeyboard

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

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

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

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

JeffRichardi

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

JoshReed

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

winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition

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

JonIrabagon

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

KennyShawKennyShawDrums

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

ChrisAndersonChrisAndersonSinging

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

PaulMaddisonSinging

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

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

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

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

RobbieGilChrisAndersonPaulMaddisonRobbieGilSinging

Here’s the set list:

SetList

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

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

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

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

BrassSectionCloseupJeffRichardiJoshReedChrisAndersonJonIrabagonPaulMaddison

GregMayoBandEncore

Wicked Continues to Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That wasn’t the insight. Winking smile

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

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

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

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

WickedStandingOvation

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

ChandraLeeSchwartzAIDSAnnouncementWickedCastBroadwayCares

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

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

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

Delta Rae at Sullivan Hall

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

DeltaRaeSingingBotR

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

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

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

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

BatSparkles Liz Hopkins

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

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

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

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

BrittanyHolljesElizabethHopkinsElizabethHopkinsIanHolljes

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

EricHolljesEricHolljesSinging

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

IanHolljes

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

BrittanyHolljesMikeMcKeeElizabethHopkinsIanHolljes

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

IanHolljesElectricGuitar

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

Backlighting

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

GrantEmersonUprightElectricBassBow

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

GrantEmersonElectricBass

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

SetListBrittanyHolljesSingingFire

BrittanyHolljesBacklitBrittanyHolljesSinging

ElizabethHopkinsSingingMikeMcKee

Carbon Leaf at Sullivan Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

CarbonLeafAcoustic1CarbonLeafAcoustic2

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

CarbonLeafAcoustic3CarbonLeafAcoustic4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BarryPrivettSingingBarryPrivettMetalRecorder

PennyWhistleBarryPrivettPennyWhistle

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

CarterGravattSetup

Here he is playing most of those instruments:

CarterGravattAcousticGuitarCarterGravattCello

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

CarterGravattElectricGuitarCarterGravattSinging

CarterGravattBouzoukiCarterGravattMandolin

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

TerryClarkAcousticTerryClarkElectricGuitar

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

JasonNealJasonNealDrums

JasonNealBrushesJasonNealSinging

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

JonMarkelBlueElectricBassJonMarkelBlondElectricBass

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

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

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

JonMarkelUprightBassJonMarkelUprightBassBow

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

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

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

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

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

SetList

Sierra Noble at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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I can’t tell you how happy I was to see Sierra Noble at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. We try to plan our musical calendar out at least a month in advance. While things come up occasionally, causing us to shift plans (not including health issues), we try hard to stick to our schedule.

SierraNobleGuitar

We returned to the city last Thursday with plans to have dinner with a couple we see often (at these shows), but had never had any quiet time with. Then I found out that Sierra had a show at The Living Room. I felt badly that I would miss it, but I wasn’t willing/interested in moving our dinner. Knowing that we already had the Rockwood show on the calendar for one week later made the decision a bit easier.

Yes, it’s true that we just saw Sierra three weeks ago at The Bitter End. Yes it’s true that we saw her two additional times in October before that. So I’ll allow myself to voice a question many of you may have? Why do we see some artists as often as we can?

Believe it or not, some artists actually ask me that directly, showing their humility (and normal insecurities). Let me begin answering with a set of related questions: are there CD’s that you play more than once? often? on repeat?

If you answered yes to the above (in particular to the last one), then I probably don’t need to explain anything to you. If you answer no, especially to the first, then you probably don’t go to live music much either.

If you do listen to CDs multiple times, as much pleasure as you derive from it, the music is identical, each and every time. Obviously, your mood might be different, other circumstances/ambience as well, making the experience different, but for the most part, you’re looking to enjoy something again, that you already know you enjoy.

In a live show, even with identical set lists and performers, no two shows are ever identical. Many aren’t even really similar (though reading about them and looking at the set list might make it seem so).

Here’s last night’s set list (note: Sierra didn’t get to the last song):

SetList

The overlap is significant with other recent shows (that’s not unusual). First, given how much we love the songs, that’s welcome. Second, even the addition of one song changes the flow. In this case, that song was Misty Morning, a Louisiana Fiddle Tune. Sierra’s play was wonderful, but the song also highlighted the rest of the band.

We attend live shows to connect with the artists on a level deeper than just the music. As many times as we’ve seen Sierra perform Possibility (a mere fraction of the times I hope/expect to see her play it!), and as many times as she’s introduced it (often with a slight addition/variation), last night Sierra told an even deeper truth about how the song came to be. I won’t repeat it, so you better come to a show if you want to know. Suffice it to say that I would have been happy to come to the show just for the additional background. Smile

Sierra also fiddled from a sitting position for the first time in our experience, during the first song:

SierraNobleSittingFiddling

Supporting Sierra, left-to-right on stage:

Greg Mayo on acoustic and electric guitar and harmony. Another stellar performance by the ever-wonderful Mr. Mayo. Greg and Sierra shared a single acoustic guitar (when she played it, Greg played electric, when she fiddled, he played the acoustic). Sierra mentioned that they usually have three acoustics on stage between them.

GregMayoAcousticGuitar

I asked whether the guitar that broke at the Bitter End was still broken. It turns out that it is. What I learned was that it was Bob Mayo’s guitar (Greg’s dad). Noting that, Sierra said that it could take all the time it needs to heal. True, but let’s hope it has a speedy recovery and Greg continues to make magic with it asap.

Seth Faulk on drums, percussion and harmony. We’ve seen Seth drum at a few of Sam Teichman’s benefit concerts. We’ve heard him sing on stage on one number with Alex Wong (recently) and I’ve heard him sing harmony from the audience a couple of times. So, I know how talented he is.

SethFaulk

That said, last night was the first time I’ve actually seen Seth play an entire set. He was excellent, playing the drums with sticks, brushes, mallets and adding shakers on the softer numbers. On a couple of songs, he was nearly whisper quiet with the brushes and mallets (totally appropriate). I already knew he has a wonderful voice and he proved that again on two numbers.

Chris Anderson on upright bass and harmony. I mentioned above that Sierra highlighted the band on Misty Morning. That applied the most to Chris, who lit up the upright during this number. He sang a lot, in particular on Human After All.

ChrisAndersonUprightBass

Rebecca Haviland on vocals. Rebecca came up as a special guest on three or four songs, singing harmony with Sierra, and often at least with one of the three guys (sometimes two of them). Rebecca is a star on her own and the ladies sing wonderfully together.

RebeccaHavilandSierraNobleChrisAndersonRebeccaHaviland

Another reason we love going out is getting to share these experiences with the many friends we’ve made who enjoy the music as much as we do. We got to sit with a couple of them last night.

HadarKristenSamTeichmanGregMayoKristen

We won’t be seeing Sierra again until 2012, hopefully that means January!

Girlyman at Joe’s Pub

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Girlyman played Joe’s Pub last night. Let’s the get the statistics portion of the post out of the way. This was our 21st time seeing Girlyman perform (give or take some arbitrary number, likely zero). We hadn’t seen Girlyman at Joe’s Pub since April 2009 (31 months!). We hadn’t seen any show at Joe’s Pub since March 2010! Joe’s Pub was completely renovated over the summer, re-opening roughly six weeks ago.

It seemed fitting that our return to Joe’s Pub (post renovation and long absence) would be to see Girlyman. Our original, accidental discovery of Girlyman occurred August 21st, 2007, at Joe’s Pub, purely because Joe’s Pub was our favorite venue. Before describing the evening, let me just say Bravo to the new Joe’s Pub. The exterior is still a full-on construction zone, but inside, they have built a gorgeous listening room.

Girlyman

We saw Girlyman just 10 days earlier in VA, at The Barns at Wolf Trap. How things change in 10 days. The most striking difference? Nate was clean shaven after having a beard (for the first time) at The Barns. Man, you just never know what you’ll experience at a live show. Winking smile

Seriously, there were qualitative differences and even some musical surprises. First, no two venues are (exactly) alike and The Barns and Joe’s couldn’t be more different. Second, while Girlyman calls Atlanta home, they were formed in NYC (first scheduled rehearsal was on 9/11/2001, obviously canceled). Their NYC shows (not just at Joe’s, but for us, particularly at Joe’s) have an extra sprinkling of magic dust.

It comes somewhat from within them (NYC is still home, even though they no longer have to pay local income taxes), but mostly from the indescribable bond that the NYC audiences have with Girlyman (if you were there last night, you’re nodding your head in recognition/agreement right now).

What makes Girlyman special? Phenomenal songwriting, delivered in luscious three-part harmony. Completely independent, non-stop laughter between numbers, seamlessly gluing the songs into a fun-filled event. In other words, never a dull moment. You’re either listening to a great song, or a funny bit, often created on the spot based on something that just happened or was mentioned on stage. A few examples below.

Girlyman is producing a new CD. It will be out sometime next year (hopefully in Q1, unless they want their fans to get the shakes). That means that shows on this tour (last night was the last show) have been filled with spanking brand new songs. Of course, no Girlyman show leaves their long-time fans without multiple tastes of their favorites, going all the way back to album #1 (Remember Who I Am).

The new CD is called Supernova, and you can pre-order it now (do it). Buy multiple pre-orders, get a couple of bonuses.

The show last night was magical, as most Girlyman shows are. Everything flowed, musically and comically. While Girlyman often has wonderful openers in other venues, they never have an opener at Joe’s because the set time is constrained (Joe’s had another show after this one). I prefer the purity of a Girlyman-only show, even though one could argue that the value in having a high-quality opener is better.

They played roughly six songs from the new CD (including the opener). One of them (later in the set) was a song they had never played in public, a very personal song by Doris about her year-long battle with Leukemia (thankfully, now in full remission!). A gorgeous song. They said that the live arrangement is different than the one on the upcoming CD. I really look forward to hearing the fully produced version!

DorisMuramatsu

For those who can’t wait any longer, here’s the set list:

SetList

I mentioned above that there were musical surprises in saying that there were differences from just a week earlier. In my previous post I noted that Everything’s Easy, performed with Coyote Grace, was spectacular, as each (normally) solo part was sung in harmony with a paired member of Coyote Grace.

Girlyman decided to reproduce that feeling without any outside help. For the first time in my experience, rather than each of them singing their verse solo, Nate’s verse had Ty singing harmony with him. Ty’s verse had Doris singing harmony with her and Doris’ verse had Nate singing harmony. Then they of course all sang their separate verses simultaneously, which was the only time they couldn’t fully reproduce the magic that Coyote Grace added. Awesome!

There were two requests and two encores not listed that I’ll add momentarily. Joe’s has always had black acoustical padding lining the walls of the stage. The renovated Joe’s has that too, but the design is slightly different (even more prominent). JJ Jones is a very active drummer. Nate pointed out that Joe’s is perfect for JJ as the padding protects her from injuring herself as she bounces off the walls. A number of times during the show, JJ did indeed show off that technique. Winking smile

This is just JJ sitting at the drums, not showing off the technique (which would have looked like a blur, even if Lois had captured it):

JJJones

Speaking of JJ, since she was wearing black and sitting way back on stage, she blended with the padded walls. Some of the shots Lois took last night make JJ appear to be a projection. Here’s one example:

JJJonesProjected

While Doris and Ty were tuning, a young girl walked up to the stage (accompanied by her mother, don’t worry folks) and handed Nate a note. He read it and noted that it was a specific request. He told them that there was an upcoming request section so he would have to ignore it for now.

But, the ladies continued to tune and Nate decided that he probably had enough time to sneak in this request. Before I tell you what it is, let me say that often, Girlyman asks the audience to vote for one of three (or four) songs, by simply describing each with a single word. Long-time fans know which song is tied to which word, but newcomers have no idea. That has never happened at a Joe’s Pub performance in all the times we’ve seen them there (meaning, they never offer this particular choice).

One of those four words is German. I always scream my head off for that choice. While I’ve seen them perform it three or four times, usually, I lose (at least in the past two years). It turns out that the note that was passed to Nate specifically asked for that song, Rock Me Amadeus by Falco. I would embarrass myself if I told you how excited I was (and that I paid that kid a lot of money to pass that note). Winking smile

We all get to sing along (not to the German lyrics, which Nate nails).

NateBorofsky

For the formal request section, they settled on Reva (a song about Nate’s grandmother). Settling is always difficult, since nearly every song Girlyman ever wrote is called for at every show during the request section. People brought hand-written signs to hold up because they knew they were too far from the stage to be heard.

For the first encore, they played Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees, to honor Doris’ journey. After leaving the stage for the second time, they were forced back out for a second encore. They knew what they were going to play, but someone called out for Doris to play the banjo (Ty had played it, but Doris hadn’t touched it as yet). Doris pointed to it (standing quietly next to her) and said “There it is”. Smile

Ty and Nate encouraged her to pick it up, changing whatever they intended to play. They performed Kittery Tide (at a much faster clip than usual), but still nailed the tricky guitar and banjo leads. Well done ladies!

Coming back to one last humorous example. At one point Nate said “Who needs therapy?”. There was dead silence. Nate followed with “We’re in NYC, everyone in the audience is probably a therapist!”. Then he added that they lived in Atlanta. He said that if the show were in Atlanta, the equivalent question would have been “Who has a chicken?”, to which the answer would have been “Most of the audience.”.

After a few more cracks about NY Times articles on many 30-somethings now buying/raising chickens, Nate started up a classic Girlyman Tuning Song about therapists and chickens. As they often do, the girls chimed in with harmony along the way, only this time, they clucked the harmony (literally, it was hysterical).

At the end of the song, Nate finished with a line “Six of one, half a dozen of the other”. Other hadn’t been rhymed yet, but he was clearly done. Without missing a beat, surprising Nate (and the rest of us completely), Ty finished it off with something like (this is a complete paraphrase, I can’t remember her truly clever words!):

What issues did you have with your mother?

Bringing it all back to the therapist line that started everything out. It was (yet another) hysterical moment, showing how clever and quick all of them are.

TyGreenstein

We shared the evening (and a table) with two friends who were new to Girlyman. We continued our 4+ year streak of constantly introducing as many new fans as we can. Last night’s mission: accomplished. Mirroring our seats on the other side of the stage were Kevin and Edith. They were very sneaky. We can’t thank them enough, but they better start worrying about our escalating retaliation. Winking smile

RachelRebeccaHavilandKevinEdith

We were the first two people on line (in line for the Brits amongst my readership). Shock, surprise, mock horror. Smile We got to say hi to Genevieve, Girlyman’s manager, both before and after the show. Here she is pictured with Ty, and Ty’s dad, Ron Greenstein (a wonderful musician in his own right, currently performing with The Chad Mitchell Trio!).

GenevieveTyGreensteinRonGreenstein

One of Girlyman’s songs, Easy Bake Ovens (co-written by Ty and Nate), is a conglomeration of Ty’s earliest childhood memories. It ends with:

Dad took a picture on August the nine
Of us with the newspaper and the headline
‘Ford Steps Up; Nixon Resigns’

It turns out, this is literal. Here’s a blog post by Ty that shows her as a baby, with that newspaper headline! Last night, Ron Greenstein showed me the same photo on his little flip phone. So cool. It’s historic(al) on a number of levels. Smile

I’ll finish with a photo that Lois accidentally hijacked (don’t worry, they got plenty of other good ones). She noticed that Girlyman was lined up nicely for a shot with some fans. She was willing to get an off angle shot of them. JJ noticed Lois and pointed to her, which made Doris turn as well. Smile

GirlymanPhotoHijacked

Already counting the days until we see them again!

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company at Baryshnikov Arts Center

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Lar Lubovitch Dance Company just completed the first few days of a 12 day run at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. We rarely see dance programs. When we do, it’s typically because we know someone who is accompanying them musically. That was true yesterday as well.

Dance confounds me. If it’s not too experimental (whatever that means to each person), there’s no doubt it’s beautiful. That said, I don’t often feel enveloped by it, as I do by a musical performance. I am an observer, often wondering what it is I am observing?

If you want to read what a professional thought of the three pieces we saw yesterday, it was reviewed in the NY Times. If you want to know why I’m confounded, here are a few choice sentences from that review:

But she couldn’t bring any character to the rest of the duet, which, like the alternating ensemble segments, too much resembles the effects of a wave machine in a bubble bath.

OK, I get the bubble bath description (though I thought I was watching a herd of gazelles, seriously). But, what does “couldn’t bring any character” mean? Seriously, what does it mean?!?

But the dance as a whole remains picturesque.

The But here is clearly meant to be derogatory (read the prior sentence to assure yourself). So, a picturesque dance is a bad thing? I guess so…

Yet in expanding upon the mysterious potential of the earlier duet, the new one disenchants.

That earlier duet is the same one he painted with the “couldn’t bring any character” to, so I’m not sure whether the earlier duet “enchants” or whether this one disenchants more. I guess the key is in the mysterious potential of the earlier duet (clearly, not achieved in the reviewer’s opinion).

Basically, he was underwhelmed. What I want to know is, was that a matter of taste, or were there specific things that could have been done to charm that reviewer?

I don’t have the training or understanding to give a serious review. I can only tell you how everything struck me. There were three pieces.

The first was The Legend of Ten set to a Brahms Quintet. The music was gorgeous, but piped in (recorded) over less-than-stellar speakers. It added a sterile quality to the performance that I haven’t experienced before, as nearly every other dance piece I’ve ever seen has had live accompaniment.

I already mentioned that I felt like I was watching a herd of gazelle’s dancing around on stage. There appeared to be a couple that were falling in love, with the herd alternatingly accepting and rejecting them (her). Am I correct in my interpretation? Who knows. There is no hint in the program of what the dance represents. More on that in a minute.

The second piece, Crisis Variations, was a world premiere on two fronts. The dance (choreography) was debuting, as was the musical accompaniment, a piece written by Yevgeniy Sharlat. This was the only piece with live music and was the reason we attended.

We’ve met Jim Johnston  (he’s known as James Johnston professionally) a number of times now, all in social situations. We have been interested in hearing him play (he’s a pianist) and have been unable to schedule it until yesterday.

HadarJimJohnston

Jim was excellent, playing on an electronic keyboard. That was necessary not only because of the space constraints but because he produced many different sounds, beginning with a harpsichord and including piano and organ sounds as well.

All five musicians were excellent, including Jennifer Grim on flute and piccolo. We saw Jennifer at The Morgan Library with Jim a few weeks back (covered here). The ensemble is called Le Train Bleu.

That said, the piece alternated between being very interesting and very dissonant for my taste. It had a statement to make, for sure, but I prefer my music to be more consistently melodic. Here’s what the NY Times reviewer said:

“Crisis Variations,” the season’s premiere, benefits from live music, excellently played by Le Train Bleu. Though Yevgeniy Sharlat’s score has an antic quality that might suggest silent comedy, the duet around which Mr. Lubovitch constructs his dance is floppy but not funny.

I guess what I called dissonant (in a very staccato manner), he calls antic quality. Le Train Bleu was formed and conducted by Ransom Wilson. We rode up in the elevator with him (without knowing who he was). He was charming and sociable, a person I’m sure we’d enjoy spending time with.

On to the dance part. The dissonant part of the music actually matched the dance very well. Perhaps more correctly put, Lar Lubovitch choreographed the piece to fit the dissonance extremely well.

I enjoyed this dance more than the other two pieces. Part of the reason is that I was sure I understood it. To me, I saw all of the dancers as marionettes, being controlled by an invisible puppeteer with invisible strings. Their movements perfectly mimicked what I would guess real marionettes would look like. The skill (to me) was exceptional.

Again, there were no hints in the program as to whether my interpretation was correct. Lois felt like she was watching scenes of domestic violence, to give you a sense of how radically different our perceptions were.

After the show we chatted for a minute with someone who said they thought it was supposed to convey the image of a van going over the side of a bridge, with the passengers being tossed to and fro as the van hurtled toward the water. Interesting that Lois’ interpretation might be considered closer to that, but marionettes, who can’t control their own movement isn’t so far off either.

I guess that people who love all art for art’s sake would say “Ah ha!”, Hadar, you finally get it. It doesn’t matter what the artist meant. It’s what you bring to the experience. Obviously, that’s true, but I always wonder why I sometimes can’t even see the remotest connection after the fact, if/when the original intent is explained to me. In other words, too abstract for me, like the all-white painting in the Met, which I’m supposed to be stopped in my tracks by.

The final piece was performed to a Dvorak Serenade (it appears to be unnamed, unless, of course, the name of the piece is Dvorak Serenade, which is likely the case). Again the music was piped in. Again the music was fantastic, except for the plastic sound through the speakers.

The dancers were dressed in night clothes (or that’s what it appeared like to me). That made me feel that the entire piece was meant to be a dream sequence. To me, the female dancer in the lead duet (Leigh Lijoi) appeared to be the dreamer.

All of the movements were lovely and fluid, and I probably preferred it to the first piece, but it wasn’t particularly interesting (like the middle one was).

There are no pictures of the performance in this post (highly unusual for us). Not only did they announce that there was no photography of any kind permitted, they actually said that it was prohibited by law. Obviously a laughable statement. Prohibited by policy of either the venue or the performers, fine, but by law? Hahaha. Still, we complied.

Of course, if you want to see a photo of what I thought were the marionettes, all you need to do is look at the NY Times review. I guess the law doesn’t apply to them.

Bottom line: I found the middle piece interesting enough to have made it worth my while to attend (though the prices for these shows are insane relative to seeing the absolutely extraordinary live music that we attend more regularly). I’m thankful that it was the reason that I attended in the first place.

Even though it was worth my while, I am sure that I will ignore all notices of dance companies in the future, until a musician that we love happens to be accompanying them again…

Girlyman and Coyote Grace at The Barns at Wolf Trap

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It’s been a little over six months since we’ve seen Girlyman in concert. Any longer than that and I start to twitch. Those of you who know me know I am unabashed in saying that they are my favorite group. For me, that’s quite a statement given how much live music we see (and love!) and how long they’ve held first place (4.25 years and counting!).

Seeing them perform at The Barns at Wolf Trap is always a joy. The place is gorgeous, the acoustics wonderful and the 400-seat venue is always full of people who love them as much as I do (many are more vocal at the performance than I am, so you might mistakenly believe that they love them more). Winking smile

Here are shots of each (so that you know who’s who) taken after the show:

DorisMuramatsuNateBorofskyTyGreenstein

NateBorofskyHadarTyGreenstein

We didn’t spot JJ after the show, but here’s a photo of her on stage:

JJJones

So, why are they so special?

  • All three songwriters (I’m unaware of whether JJ Jones, the drummer, writes any songs), Ty, Doris and Nate are amazing on their own. They often collaborate (probably after one has gotten a song a certain distance) and produce even better efforts (one example is Easy Bake Ovens).
  • Collectively, their body of work is quite large for a group that’s only been together for 10 years (five CDs and counting, with the sixth already in pre-order). I think one of the reasons is that they all write great songs, so they have three times the output that a group might have when they have a lead creative.
  • They produce exquisite albums that can be listened to non-stop on repeat. I have no doubt that this will be true of the new one, Supernova, when it comes out in a few months. You can pre-order yours now (we did, come join us).
    PreorderSupernova
  • Their harmonies are mind-bogglingly beautiful. This actually has little to do with their voices (more on that below) and everything to do with their genius at arranging songs, in particular harmonies. They even teach classes on harmony (sounds like a Master Class to me!).
  • Their live shows are a treat, for their humanity, personality and laugh-out-loud extemporaneous humor. Of course it’s about the live music as well, often because you get to hear brand new songs that will be on forthcoming albums (not necessarily the next one!).

Here’s the set list. It’s sprinkled with brand new songs (a couple we had never heard before, plus two world debuts that no one had heard before!), new-ish songs (which will be on Supernova), old favorites (including the first song off the first album!), requests, etc. It’s one of the highlights of any Girlyman show, knowing in advance that they will surprise you, given the size of their catalog (the two-song encore is not listed):

GirlymanSetList

It also included Hold It All at Bay, my favorite Girlyman song for at least three years running. On some levels, it’s probably still my favorite, but I’m also obsessed with Could Have Guessed (which they didn’t play last night).

TyGreensteinNateBorofsky

Coyote Grace opened the show (you’ll have to read way down to get to that section). I mention them here because they spent a considerable amount of time on stage with Girlyman, individually and collectively. Here’s a shot of Doris, with Ingrid playing the bass (she’s excellent) behind her:

DorisMuramatsuIngridElizabeth

The most notable song (for me) was Everything’s Easy.

It’s an amazing song on a number of levels. As gorgeous as the production is on their latest CD (of the same title), I was much more used to the faster version that I’d heard live many times, which was recorded live, on Somewhere Different Now. So, I love the CD version for it’s quality, but still long to hear it sped up a bit.

Last night they did the slow version, but with a huge twist. Each of the three Coyote Grace people paired up with the Girlyman singers (JJ is reasonably silent during the shows, her drums speak for themselves!). Ingrid shared a mic with Nate, Michael with Ty and Joe with Doris.

The parts that Nate, Ty and Doris do solo (always), were now done in harmony (with the corresponding member of Coyote Grace at the same mic). That was beautiful enough. But, this song builds to two-part, then three-part harmony, with each part singing entirely different words/melodies.

Keep that last part, but add in that each different set of lyrics/melodies is itself being sung in harmony, having six voices sing three different parts, and you have something that I feel feeble in trying to describe. In this case, the slow version was (perhaps more) appropriate, since it made it much easier to shift focus between the three parts and the six different voices.

If you don’t want to read anything negative (even a hint), please stop now, the above should (hopefully) satisfy you.

For those that are reading on, but don’t know me, I’ll give my standard disclaimer that I blog to capture how I felt about each performance. At my age, memory fades fast, and this allows me to recall each show with clarity. I am not a music critic (even a bit, nor do I pretend to be). If others discover music that I love and also enjoy it, that’s a bonus.

We see a lot of shows in NY and VA. In VA, it’s often easier to organize larger groups to see shows together. That’s what happens when we see Girlyman, as I’ve been on a mission to spread their gospel since I first saw them in August 2007. Last night, we had a group of 10 at the Barns. Four of those had never seen Girlyman before.

Last night was our 20th time (give or take one) seeing Girlyman live. I’ve written one negative review, when both Ty and Nate were extremely sick and simply couldn’t deliver their typical performance. The other four in our group last night had all been to that one off show (for two of them, their only Girlyman experience).

Without being overly negative, here’s the difference between most Girlyman shows and last night: most Girlyman shows are magic, start-to-finish. Last night (and a very few others) have numerous magical moments, interspersed with too much thinking (referring to me, not being lost in the moment).

Part of my personal problem comes from the fact that we’re constantly introducing new people to the group. That makes me try to hear each show with new ears (ooh, how Zen of me!). Winking smile I try to anticipate how a newcomer would react, so that I don’t get defensive if they don’t understand instantly how awesome Girlyman is.

The problem is that given the heavy toll that the past year has taken on them (Doris was diagnosed with Leukemia almost exactly a year ago), it’s understandable that they don’t always deliver a peak performance, on every song (like they used to). For non-fans, Doris has responded extraordinarily well to the medicine (which she has to take daily) and is now in remission (or for you medical nerds, in full molecular response). That’s awesome. Still, the toll (on all of them!) has been exacted and it will likely take time to get (somewhat) beyond it.

For me, the manifestation comes in the harmonies (and even some solo leads) not being delivered as cleanly as they are on the albums (or were in most previous live shows). At other times it’s the rhythm of the show itself. Even though they were hysterical last night, there were only two tuning songs. If you’re a fan, you know what that means to us.

I’ll digress for a second and say that they opened the encore with a very funny bit, which culminated in the girls cajoling Nate into singing a parody song. The title: Undeterred. The homophone of that (not in the strictest sense, since it’s actually two words): Undy turd. Suffice it to say that it is a silly song filled with normal conversational words that all aim to project the image of the homophone, rather than the previously spelled out version.

I was wiping tears away during the song, I was laughing so hard. It was literally uncontrollable (bordering on embarrassing).

Not to belabor the original point, but rather to put it to bed, their delivery isn’t always perfect. No real fan of Girlyman cares. I bet many don’t notice (because they’re enraptured), but when I pull myself out of the moment to analyze the sound, I recognize the difference.

Do I care? No! I can’t wait to see them again on November 13th, at Joe’s Pub, where it all began for me in August 2007!

Finally, on to the opener. We’d heard amazing things about Coyote Grace. They’ve opened for Girlyman on a number of tours now, but the two shows that we saw in April were the only ones where Coyote Grace didn’t appear (Birchmere and The Southern Café).

Coyote Grace began as a duo (Joe Stevens and Ingrid Elizabeth, I only know that from their website). Michael Connolly joined them to form the current incarnation.

All three are extremely talented, vocally and instrumentally. They’re also all very comfy on stage and are often funny.

Unfortunately, even though it’s exactly my type of music, I didn’t really connect with them in any meaningful way. The sound of nearly every song was lovely, so they can certainly perform to a high level. But, the lyrics often felt forced to me.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about a singer/songwriter who I felt suffered from writing too directly about her personal feelings/experiences. We’ve all had those feelings, but her lyrics were so direct that I felt disconnected from them. A number of times, I felt the same thing about Coyote Grace.

I love song introductions. Often, it makes me appreciate a gorgeous lyric which could be interpreted a number of ways (which is one of the things that makes it a great lyric) in a very specific way (allowing me to connect specifically with the artist, independent of the song). The reverse was true last night a couple of times.

Coyote Grace introduced some songs in a very personal way (so far so good), but then sang lyrics that were laser-like targets of the intro. In other words, I couldn’t have easily misunderstood the lyrics in that context only. So, the songs themselves were not generically moving (to me).

The only other issue I had was that while Joe has a very nice voice (reasonably distinct characteristics), he doesn’t sing with much power. Ingrid has an amazing voice (truly), and can sing with power, but when she sings with Joe (which is way more often than the few times that Michael joins in), she tones it down to match Joe. That’s cool, except that in a 400-person venue, a little more power is called for (IMO).

JoeStevensIngridElizabeth

They are all talented multi-instrumentalists, but Michael Connolly tops the list. He played mandolin, fiddle, accordion, piano, upright bass and probably a few more that I am just forgetting. All extremely well! He sings well too.

MichaelConnolly

Still, that’s not what I will remember most about him. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that he’s the spitting image of Wayne Knight (Newman on Seinfeld). That Michael was very funny, facial expressions as well as some lines, only reinforced that for me.

Coyote Grace kicked off the show by having JJ drum for them (wonderfully!). They later invited Ty up to play the cajon (first time I recall seeing Ty play one). Then they brought them all out for at least two numbers, including a spiritual (written by their friends, Ma Muse) which they mostly snap to (and clap to in the faster parts), in a more a cappella feel. Stunning.

Here are all of them (except for JJ) in one shot, singing a different song:

GirlymanJoinsCoyoteGrace

I listened to the streaming music on the Coyote Grace site today, for more than 30 minutes. I liked the sound a lot, but I was easily able to work on other things (meaning, again, the lyrics didn’t pull me in). Listen for yourself, you’ll likely feel very differently.

Here’s their set list along with a page from the program with last night’s entry:

CoyoteGraceSetList

During intermission, I stood at my seat just to stretch. When I looked toward the back, I instantly recognized someone I’ve only seen once in my life. Five rows behind us was Owen Danoff, who we saw perform in NYC a few weeks back. He was there with a friend, celebrating his birthday. Here’s what I wrote about him. As you can see, I’m a big fan, including being able to pick him out in a crowd. Smile

HadarOwenDanoffFriend

In a much smaller world story, when Lois slipped past me (also during intermission), she stopped in her tracks and looked at the person two to my right in our own row and said: “Are you?” and he replied “Yes.” Smile

It was another Girlyman fan, John Dickerson. I briefly met John at two other Girlyman shows, but had spoken to him on the phone before ever meeting him. John wrote a series of articles on risk taking. One of those was about Girlyman, and the risks of being an indie music group in our times. John interviewed me for that article. His wife sat between us. It made me feel like our group of 10 was really 12. Winking smile

Before heading to the Barns, eight of us had an amazing meal at P.F. Chang’s in McLean. We made Stacey pose with our server. Winking smile

StaceyPFChangs

Here are the rest of us right before the show. The ghost is taking the picture, which is why there are only nine of us visible.

AllOfUs

War Horse at the Vivian Beaumont Theater

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I didn’t particularly have an interest in seeing War Horse, even after it won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Play. We ended up seeing it last night (how that came to be, below), with extraordinary seats, in the second row.

I don’t go to the theater often enough for anyone to take my opinions to heart. When we make it out to Broadway, it’s more often for a musical than a play. Even then, often for the same musical (we’ve seen Wicked 10 times, already heave tickets for our 11th). Clearly, War Horse is a runaway winner, not just with critics/awards, but with audiences (tickets are very hard to come by).

With that out of the way, here is my opinion of the show, with no spoilers (not that there’s much to spoil to begin with).

The good:

  • The Puppetry is beyond brilliant. I like puppetry (I posted about a puppet show in Atlanta that we loved). This takes it to another level (more likely an order of magnitude).
  • Basically, it doesn’t take much suspension of disbelief to accept that you’re watching real horses on stage. This is a testament to both the puppets (and puppet makers) and to the puppeteers (3+ per horse!). The fact that you can ignore the puppeteers that you see working the horses is mind-boggling (yes, this is a continuation of the first point).
  • There is very little singing/music in the show, but what’s there is very well done.
  • Much of the acting is top notch, including a few exceptional performances (perhaps my favorite was Alyssa Bresnahan as the mother)
  • The staging is clever, in a very austere setting (more is done with less)
  • The second half (in particular the first 10-15 minutes) is filled with solid laughs. During the rest of the play, most of the laughs come from marveling at various puppets, not from clever lines.
  • The theater is beautiful and comfortable. Even though we had amazing seats, I imagine that the worst seat is pretty darn good.

The bad:

  • The story is actually trite. It’s a child’s story, drawn out in a series of ridiculous circumstances. The last scene was cringe-worthy for me (the writing and the acting).
  • The dialog is rarely engaging, bouncing back-and-forth between attempts at humor and overly serious philosophizing.
  • A small number of the actors overact so badly it’s almost laughable. Unfortunately, a few are in critical roles. I couldn’t tell whether they were poorly directed (and therefore possibly fine actors) or poorly cast. In the end, it doesn’t matter.

You can see more good than bad bullets above, and that’s ultimately how I felt about the show. I enjoyed it, and on a few levels am glad I went, but that this won the Tony Award for Best Play makes me sad to think about the state of Plays on Broadway. Perhaps there are too few to choose from to begin with.

To me, this should have won for the puppetry, in the same way that movies win Special Effects Oscars, without even being considered for Best Movie.

PlaybillTheaterReview

The cast received a standing ovation (from me too). Many of them deserved it (especially the puppeteers), so I didn’t feel silly standing. The real point is that for probably most everyone else in the theater, they were standing because they loved the show in every respect.

PlaybillCast

How we got there, which is one of the levels that I thoroughly enjoyed the show.

On July 6th, 2011, we met three young men who are attending the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary. They were up on a business trip and we all had dinner together followed by seeing two sets at Rockwood Music Hall. The first set (and a paragraph about the dinner) was covered in this post, which includes a photo of everyone who attended the dinner at the bottom.

One of those men is someone we’ll call John (because that’s his actual name). Winking smile John and I stayed in touch mostly through Twitter and he exchanged a few emails with Lois over the following months. John is in the Army, having served multiple tours in Iraq. In a recent email exchange, he told us that he was coming to NYC for a weekend with his wife, Alicia.

He mentioned that they were considering seeing War Horse. He has the obvious connection of being a soldier. Alicia is a horsewoman (a serious one at that), so she had independent reasons for wanting to see the show. I had a curiosity that came more from the musical side (I’ll conclude with that) so we suggested that the four of us see it together.

We also arranged to meet for dinner a few blocks away at Rosa Mexicano. Early yesterday morning we found out that in a couple of days, John will be promoted to Major. John was surprised that we knew when we congratulated him at dinner. We heard the news from our friend who introduced us back in July. We toasted his accomplishment and shared an incredible meal (well, at least mine was incredible). Smile

AliciaJohn

Both John and Alicia raved about the show afterward. I think that bringing their own perspectives to the performance made them connect more deeply with it than I did. For example, one of the things that John talked about the second the show was over was how well they captured the feeling that individual soldiers on each side experience nearly identical feelings.

Alicia being a horsewoman, explained how every nuance of a real horse’s movements was captured to perfection by the puppeteers. I’ve been around thousands of horses in my life (you don’t want to know how much time I’ve spent at the racetrack, both thoroughbred and harness), so I wholeheartedly agree.

When the show was over, we tried to catch a cab together. Given the freak October snowstorm in NYC that day, it wasn’t going to happen. We parted ways and Lois and I walked a number of blocks over to Central Park West. We ended up sharing a cab with a couple who was in town from San Diego for the weekend. They too had just seen War Horse (and loved it!). We dropped them at their hotel and continued to our apartment.

Circling back to one of my personal curiosities about War Horse. On May 23rd, I saw two sets at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2.

Mighty Kate (Katy Pfaffl) was the first one (covered second in this post). While she was on stage, War Horse was winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play! She had a special guest star join her to sing a duet, Matt Doyle, who is also in the show.

So, I had a personal interest in seeing each of them.

Katy is listed in the Playbill as Kate Pfaffl. She is the primary singing voice throughout the show, in a visible/background/narrator way. In other words, she’s not part of the scenes, but she’s often somewhere on stage, singing while the play is going on.

She has a gorgeous voice. She sings in a Scottish accent throughout (an interesting surprise for me). It’s hard to concentrate on the lyrics, because quite often, there is action happening on stage, even dialog (which is independent of not being used to hearing a Scottish accent in song).

In addition to singing, Kate also plays the violin (one of her multi-instrumental talents) a number of times.

There is a male singer, Liam Robinson, who is on stage a bit less than Kate. Most of the time that he’s on, they are singing together. They sounded fantastic. He played accordion and harmonica.

What of Matt Doyle? He has CDs out and clearly has a wonderful voice (from the show we saw in May). To my surprise, he doesn’t sing a lick. He’s one of the lead actors in War Horse, playing Billy Narracott. He was one of the strongest performers.

So, both Kate and Matt impressed (if I added mightily, which was my instinct, we would have come full circle back to Mighty Kate).

Rebecca Haviland at Rockwood Music Hall

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Rebecca Haviland at Rockwood Music Hall? We’re there. We’d go even if we knew it would be identical to the last show, but this time I knew there would be at least a small twist. One of her band members, Greg Mayo, was playing in Washington, DC, so something would be different. It turns out that her drummer Kenny Shaw wasn’t there either.

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Rebecca didn’t replace Greg at the keyboards, nor his vocals, so the set was a bit more stripped down and raw. While I will welcome Greg back with open arms, I have to admit that there was a grittiness to having Rebecca’s electric guitar be the primary sound (along with her stunning voice) that was an interesting change of pace.

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Rebecca just finished tracking (perhaps even mixing) a new CD, after a successful Kickstarter campaign. I believe that most of last night’s set will be on the CD. Another thing to look forward to in the coming months! Here’s the set list:

SetList

Rebecca got the crowd singing (pretty loudly) on If You (I never need an invitation for that one! In fact, it hurts me not to also sing on the lead-in, “If you want me to”, but I muzzle myself.).

She was supported by two outstanding musicians, with a very special surprise guest on one number.

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Chris co-wrote many of the songs with Rebecca. Their collaboration works perfectly in my opinion. Chris always sings a bunch on Rebecca’s sets, but with Greg Mayo out last night, it was always the two of them, rather than the occasional three-part harmony.

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Another effect of having Greg out was the lack of keyboard solos. Chris made up for one by kicking a** and taking numbers on a long and terrific bass solo. Even when Greg returns, I hope they keep that in the set!

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Dave Burnett on drums. Dave did a fantastic job throughout the set. I admit to be a little worried during the first number (Direction). Dave was great on that too, but a bit more hyper at times than Kenny Shaw’s style and it felt a little out of place to me. I never had that feeling again on the rest of the numbers. Dave is just flat out excellent.

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Evan Watson came up to sing and play harmonica on Whiskey. His harmonica play was great. He took a verse on the lead and was absolutely wonderful.

Update: almost every time I second guess my memory, I put in incorrect information in the blog. it happened again this time. Because they joked about Whiskey, I said that Evan played on Whiskey, even though I was pretty sure he didn’t. Today, Manish Gosalia posted a video of the song Evan played on, Dig My Grave. Sorry folks, that’s what I remembered, but I overruled myself… 🙁

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In a fitting moment, Rebecca called for him to come up and she didn’t spot him right away. When she asked if he was still in the room, he called out that he was just getting a Whiskey at the bar. Winking smile

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Rebecca announced that she’d be back at Rockwood sometime in November and then again in December, though the specific dates haven’t been booked yet. If we’re in town, we’ll be there, no question about it.

Manish Gosalia is an exceptional photographer. As important, he has superb taste in music, as I find myself at many of the same shows he’s at. He has always put up a photo or two of each show, but lately I feel like he’s sharing more of them (which is a very good thing). He put up a slideshow of last night’s set. Enjoy!