Kim Churchill at Rockwood Music Hall

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Nearly four years ago Lois and I attended a show at Tarrytown Music Hall. The opener that night was Anthony da Costa. At the time, he was 16 and many considered him a rising star in the folk world. A few weeks back when I locked our calendar to see Alex Wong at Rockwood Music Hall, I noticed that Anthony was listed at 9pm, the set before Alex. I figured we’d catch him and see how he’s progressed over the past four years.

Eight of us had dinner at the Peking Duck House (regular readers will notice that this was our second time there in under a week, yay!). Six of us (four were on a business trip from VA) headed down together. While we settled in and ordered drinks, a solo guitar player got on stage to warm up and sound check. He didn’t really look too much like Anthony, but it was four years later, so who knows.

Then he started to play the guitar (just warming up) and I thought Anthony has gotten a ton better (he was reasonably good even back then). To sound check his voice, he actually spoke, at which point I was sure it wasn’t Anthony. I thought it was a New Zealand accent, but it turns out it was Australian. You’ll have to forgive my error (especially given that I was born in Australia!), since we had lunch yesterday with a Kiwi (the human kind) and his accent was reasonably close to hers. Smile

Kim Churchill had replaced Anthony da Costa on the Rockwood schedule. I don’t know if it was yesterday morning, or a few weeks back, but his name was listed on the website when I went back and checked. From the sound check alone, I was sure we wouldn’t be disappointed. That’s an understatement.

KimChurchill

Kim is literally a one-man band. He plays acoustic guitar, harmonica and a kick drum, simultaneously. But the sound he creates is way bigger than what you’d imagine. I’ll do my (pathetic) best to describe it in a minute, but first I’d like to rave a bit about his guitar play.

KimChurchillHarmonica

Kim played a variety of styles. He’s one of the best (fastest, smoothest, cleanest, interesting) finger pickers I’ve ever seen. I developed a case of carpal tunnel syndrome just watching his right hand cycle through the strings over (and over and over and over…) as his left hand danced up and down the frets at high speeds.

KimChurchillGuitar

He played a bit of both hands on the frets style (right hand hammers down), like many of the Candyrat stars and Kaki King do. Of course, he did it extremely well (not necessarily as well as someone like Andy McKee does, but clearly, this isn’t Kim’s primary style).

KimChurchillFretPlay

Obviously, he also just strummed. I put that in italics, because everything Kim does is with such overwhelming passion that adding just was sort of ridiculous. We should call it power strumming, because it’s usually coming when his belting out some lyrics to the point where it looks like he’s about to explode.

He played some more classic leads (closer to a flat-picking style), and was awesome in that too, but again, the majority of the magic happened in his finger picking.

Before I continue, allow me to duplicate his “About” section from his Facebook fan page:

Guitarist and songwriter Kim Churchill is a truly gifted soul. At just 20 years of age, his implausible talent and unique approach to his music is something to be in awe of.

First, I bolded his age, that’s not how it appears on his page. Second, I typically chuckle when I read statements like that. They’re often written in third-person, as if some outside reviewer wrote it, but of course, it appears on a page controlled by the artist. In this case, let me just tell those of you who don’t know him, the description is accurate!

OK, back to why his sound is bigger than just a guitar, harmonica and kick drum. He had a double-decker pedal board in front of him (the second level looked like it was roughly six inches higher than the the lower level, and set back as well). He was barefoot, which might have been because he used his toes to adjust some of the knobs on the pedal board (meaning, they weren’t all just switches to press on).

He had two amps, one to his right and one behind him and a little to his left. The amps were perhaps eight feet apart. To my ears, the one on our left was very bright, handling the highs very crisply (I believe it’s an amp supplied by Rockwood). The other one seemed rounder sounding, handling the mids in a more muted way.

When things were working correctly (I’ll get to that in a bit), it created a really rich sound, because the same guitar was coming out of two different amps sounding like two different guitars. If I’m wrong about that (and I very well might be!), then his actual guitar was louder than most (I was only two feet away from him though).

His harmonica was mic’ed as well (permanently, taped up with what looked like black duct tape). That mic had a ton of reverb on it. When Kim wanted a change of mood on his vocals, he sang into the harmonica (and therefore through the mic taped to the back of it), and his voice was a bit huskier, lower volume, but with a lot of reverb added. The main mic had reverb going too, just not quite as much.

Speaking of reverb, he might have overdone it a bit (in my opinion, and the opinion of at least one other person in our group). Still, I’d take the amount he applied over none, since it generally worked well.

He has a very nice voice. Unfortunately, since I was so close to him, I was directly under the main speakers in Rockwood that handle the vocals. Being so close to the amps (and his loud guitar), his lyrics were often drowned out for me (though I could still hear his voice). Lois told me that she could hear him perfectly (she was six feet behind me, but in perfect position for the house speakers).

Lois was extremely impressed with his lyrics. I was impressed with a number of the lines I heard, but it was a small percentage.

So, this was a perfect show, right? Wrong! Kim had so many technical difficulties it wasn’t funny. The pedal board had a wiring problem and the main amp (the one with the bright highs) kept cutting out, then reappearing. In between songs, he and his roady (friend) would jiggle things and it might come back right away, or a bit later, only to cut out again.

At no time did the sound go dead (for me). It either came out a bit more muted from the second amp, or like I said, the guitar was simply loud enough to carry without amplification (all of the two feet to my ears). It was annoying (in the jarring sense) when it would cut out and return, but nothing about the performance was annoying even in the slightest. I felt bad for Kim, I felt bad for us that we didn’t get the intended full effect, but even at the height of the problems, the music was fantastic.

Kim turned it into a joke, at least twice. The first time, he said “We’re going to enter the mellow phase of the song now. There really isn’t a mellow part in this one, so I’ll have to create it now.” (That’s a poor paraphrase, very poor.) Later in the show, when it happened yet again, he said something like “Here comes another unexpected mellow version!”. Winking smile

In other words, even at 20-years-old, he doesn’t get rattled on stage. He’s funny and entertaining, even in adversity.

When the show was over we wanted to buy his CD. I asked him how much. He said he really didn’t know how much to charge (he’s been in the country for about two weeks and this was his first official show). He asked me if I thought $20 would be too much and if so, I could pay less.

I admit that it took me aback for a second. I can’t remember the last time I paid $20 for a CD (even at a show). Well, that’s a lie. I do remember, it was in 2008, and that group has since reduced their live-show sales prices to $15. But, as I’ve said many times here, we really purchase CDs at shows to put cash in the artists hands, so I recovered very quickly and happily gave him $20 (seriously). So did another person in our group.

When Kim realized that the other person was surprised at the price, he told him to make a copy for the other guys he was traveling with. Very classy. When we discussed it later, I noted that I was actually impressed with his approach. He didn’t insist on a high price, but he created the opportunity to get a higher value for the CD.

This morning I checked Amazon just out of curiosity. They have one copy in stock. It’s an import. It’s $31.07! So, I got a bargain yesterday! Winking smile

It’s available for download on iTunes (I recommend Amazon when available, but it doesn’t seem to be) for $9.99.

I listened to the CD twice today (13 songs). I really like it, a lot, but I admit two things: 1) The live performance is so much rawer with longer guitar bits, that it’s a little more electrifying, 2) Even though I now know that his lyrics are really good and sophisticated (I could obviously hear them really well), it was a very busy morning and even on two consecutive listens, I kept getting distracted from absorbing them the way I wanted to.

On the CD, many songs remind me so much of Colin Hay. Kim uses reverb in a way similar to Colin, and of course both have accents (though not identical) and there’s a bit of the mystical sound going on in both. While I love Colin’s guitar play, he’s not in Kim’s league on that front.

Circling back to the beginning. Here’s a photo of us after our meal. Two more people from VA joined us at Rockwood, and Lindsie came up (separately) and joined as well. We were a party of nine, all blown away by Kim Churchill. Smile

PekingDuckHouse

Deb Oh and The Cavaliers at Rockwood Music Hall

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We went to Rockwood Music Hall to see Valerie Mize play the 8pm set (last night). In Valerie’s event page on Facebook, she touted the act following her, Deb Oh. That name sounded vaguely familiar to me. I listened to a number of songs and realized that a while ago, someone else mentioned that I would like Deb Oh, I agreed, but ended up not being able to attend her upcoming show.

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Thankfully, it was very convenient for us to stay this time after Valerie’s set.

Thankful, because I was blown away by every song in the set. (The end…)

Seriously, Deb Oh has an exceptional voice (range, power, nuance), plays the piano incredibly well and writes haunting, sophisticated songs. I am sure that Deb could hold my interest in a solo performance. I would be willing to find out whether that’s true, but last night she was supported by an excellent band, so the only thing I can tell you for sure is that they produce such a rich sound together that is not to be missed.

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On one song, Deb lifted a small organ and placed it on top of the piano. I would say it looked like an old toy, except that it seemed that it was incredibly heavy and unwieldy for her to handle. There’s a photo of it on her Facebook page (I hope the link works).

DebOhSettingUpToyOrgan

The band is called The Cavaliers, hence the title of this post, Deb Oh and The Cavaliers. I’m not sure we experienced the normal lineup of The Cavaliers. There is a guitarist and drummer listed in a number places that weren’t there. I’ve seen a different bassist mentioned as well. No matter, here’s who we got to see, left-to-right on the stage:

Alan Jeffries on cello. Alan sat 12 inches from me, exactly where Ward Williams sat the set before, also on a cello. Alan did a nice job throughout the set, but his volume was a touch low.

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Dari Matilsky on vocals. Dari sang on roughly half of the songs. She has a gorgeous voice and harmonized with Deb perfectly. I was particularly impressed that on two songs, she basically sang “Oh” (stretched out), over and over. In other words, her voice was purely an instrument (an amazing one), rather than singing words in harmony with Deb.

DariMatilsky

Martin Fowler on electric and upright bass. Martin did a wonderful job with the upright, with the bow and plucking and on the electric as well. I mentioned above the haunting nature of many of the songs. This was partially enhanced whenever Martin was bowing (sawing) at the same time that Alan was doing it on the cello.

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Dave Yim on drums. Dave was terrific throughout the set. His drumming added greatly to the haunting rhythms, at times very jungle-like.

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I suspect that Deb Oh is a marketing genius. A number of her songs have “Oh” repeating. In Adonais, she sings “Oh” eight times in a row. In Vesper, 15 times in a row (rhythmically, very interesting!). I think she’s subliminally making sure everyone remembers that the song(s) they loved is/are associated with Deb “Oh”. Winking smile

In that vein, I already mentioned that Dari sang nothing but a ton of Oh’s on two of the songs. Smile

DebOhDariMatilskySingingOh

After the set, I bought a copy of Deb Oh’s EP, Cold Glory. I purposely overpaid (she had the correct change), not just to throw $2 extra her way, but so that she’d remember me if she reads this. Winking smile I love the EP, which comes with a bonus track. You can listen to the EP (with the exception of the bonus track, Knots) in its entirety on Deb Oh’s Bandcamp page.

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Deb performed one cover, Brandy Alexander by Feist. Here’s the set list from last night:

SetList

Already looking forward to the next time we get to see her!

Valerie Mize at Rockwood Music Hall

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On Sunday, I started the post about Sierra Noble as follows:

In what is obviously becoming a regular occurrence, we discover new musicians in the following cycle: 1) they perform side-person duties with someone we regularly see, 2) we see some mini-set where they headline a portion, 3) we see them perform a full set of their own, falling madly in love with them directly.

Since every word applies to Valerie Mize equally (including the falling madly in love part), I’ll plagiarize myself out of pure laziness. Winking smile We first saw Valerie singing backup at the Soul Revue Benefit. Then we saw her perform a 3-song set at Backscratch XIV. We’ve seen her singing backup twice since, which made us want to see her perform a full set last night at Rockwood Music Hall.

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In the Backscratch post I mentioned that Valerie has a beautiful voice and plays the guitar very well. Let me underscore both points and add a new one: she writes songs that both Lois and I love! Her lyrics flow smoothly with many interesting phrases. The songs are structured really well and are executed wonderfully.

We picked up a copy of her Auspices EP at Backscratch. We like it so much that we bought another copy last night for three reasons: 1) We wanted a signed copy, 2) We like to support the artists we love, 3) Some lucky friend of ours will get the unsigned copy that we currently have.

Since I underscored the old comments, let me explain a bit. Valerie’s voice has tremendous range and different tonality when appropriate. She can do a throaty soul type number, as well as soaring laser-like notes when singing above the audience on Downtown Train. She ended the show with the latter, crushing the highs.

Valerie finger picks the electric guitar beautifully, but she took it to levels that didn’t come through at Backscratch (for lack of time). Her guitar play on Tell Me Why (the first song on the EP) is fantastic. It’s gorgeous on the EP too, but live, it’s actually mesmerizing. Easy to miss how good the rest of the song is while your eyes are glued to her fingers.

Enough about Valerie already. Winking smile Actually, sorry, I do need to say one more thing. Valerie is one of the most natural on-stage performers. She is quick witted and appears completely comfortable (regardless of whatever nerves might be going on under the covers). When she flubbed the beginning guitar part to a song late in the set, she restarted twice. After the second error, she noted that this was as much a comedy set as a music one. Folks, if she wanted to, she likely could be a good comedian (or do you prefer comedienne?).

On to the band. Left-to-right on the stage:

Ward Williams on cello. We’ve seen Ward many times. He was terrific every single time. Last night as well, but it was also a bit special. I was sitting 12 inches from the cello. If Ward had worse aim with the bow, he could have poked my eye out. Winking smile On one song it was mostly Ward and Valerie alone. Absolutely gorgeous. Ward plucked a bunch in addition to the more traditional bowing. It had been a while since we’d last seen Ward, so this was a wonderful surprise!

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Bri Arden on background vocals. I recently covered Bri’s full set. Since Valerie sang backup at that set, Bri returned the favor here. The same comments apply. Having a legitimate lead singer sing background is a treat, because they understand their job well, knowing what works for them when they are in the lead. Needless to say, Bri did a great job.

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Antar Goodwin on electric bass. I am extremely impressed with Antar’s play. What was fascinating to me last night was that he was blocked from my view for nearly the entire set, except for his left hand, which I could see dancing up and down the frets (body-less). Since I could also hear the bass perfectly, it was like watching a finger ballet matching the sound.

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Here’s a shot of what Antar looked like to me:

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Tomo Kanno on drums. Tomo was excellent throughout the set as well. The core trio (Valerie, Antar and Tomo) are extremely tight and well-matched.

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Perhaps the most surprising (and welcome) thing was the absolutely perfect volume level on every instrument and both voices. Given that the guitar and bass were electric and that I was three feet from the guitar amp and six from the bass amp, I would typically have been blown out in a Rockwood 1 set. Kudos to the band for finding the right amp levels and allowing Drew on sound to level everything else to match (voices and cello).

Here’s the set list. Valerie played all five songs from the EP, plus five more (excellent) songs. We both particularly liked Cinderella:

SetList

So, when does Valerie play again? Winking smile

Steff Leal at Rockwood Music Hall

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We were going to see the 8pm set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. We often check out the set before, to raise our chances of getting seats. This time, the artist we were going to see at 8pm was promoting the 7pm and 9pm sets. That raised my hopes that the 7pm would be good. I was wrong.

Steff Leal had quite a large crowd who cheered and clapped loudly after each song. So, my/our taste was different than the vast majority in the room.

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Steff played a solo set accompanying herself on the grand piano. She has a nice voice (very pleasant). She plays the piano well enough. Her songs are basically pleasant as well. So, what’s the problem?

It’s a compounding of things more than any one thing. Because of that, the order I list the problems in is less important than the fact that they are all happening at the same time (often).

  • The vast majority of her piano play is staccato in nature. To exaggerate for effect (in other words, to make my point a bit too starkly), I felt like she’s often playing a more complicated version of chopsticks. Rarely is either hand playing an actual melody or complex chord.
  • While she hits every note pleasantly, her voice isn’t rich. That might not be an issue at all, except that the piano isn’t filling in any sustained sounds (see above), so her voice is often the only thing hanging in the air, and it doesn’t hang thickly enough.
  • Everyone makes mistakes when performing live (everyone). I wouldn’t mention it, except that she made multiple mistakes in practically every one of her original songs.
  • She played four covers. Perhaps she doesn’t have enough originals (which would be fine). Unfortunately, her choice of covers didn’t seem suited to her. She played Cee Lo’s infamous Forget You. That song requires a bit more chutzpah than Steff musters (IMHO). She played one rock cover (which escapes me as I type). Again, a poor choice for a solo piano player. Her Dylan cover was closest to being natural for her.

When she performed her own songs, I often thought “That’s an interesting concept or lyric” and felt that I would be drawn in any moment. Unfortunately, with one or two exceptions, most of those songs drifted off course both lyrically and melodically. The lyrics stopped flowing and felt forced and the melodies (or bridge) tried to include too many fancy things.

So, the difference in our opinion and the rest of the crowd can easily be chalked up to different taste. It’s also possible that it was largely a friendly crowd, meaning friends/family that came specifically to hear/support Steff. At least it felt like that to me.

I have suggestions to fix the above problems:

  • Find a writing partner. It can even be someone who comes in after the song is finished, to edit/polish the rough parts. Many of the seeds in the songs intrigued me. They can be fleshed out better.
  • Add at least one more instrument (it could be as simple as a bass player who will keep the underlying melody going when the piano is quiet).
  • Perhaps hire a vocal coach (I’m less sure of this one, but it’s possible that this could obviate the need for more instruments).
  • Practice significantly more, to lessen the obvious mistakes during the live sets.
  • Work on filling out the piano parts, no matter how much effort that entails.

In other words, I think Steff has the ingredients to do a good job. She just needs a better recipe to follow.

Another Amazing Weekend

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This was our third consecutive weekend hosting out-of-town visitors. Since the last two were fantastic, the bar was set high for this one. Don’t worry, we cleared it.

When our friends (parents of our godchildren and our closest friends for nearly 30 years!) asked whether this weekend would be a good one for them to come up from VA, the automatic answer was of course! The only (minor) complication was our unmovable commitment to attending four sets of music on Saturday night.

I’ve already written about the music separately, but since this is a post about the entire weekend, I’ll link them here again. Rebecca Haviland: covered here. Matt Simons: covered here. Sierra Noble: covered here. Chris Ayer: covered here.

We had a small scare before everything got rolling. Our friends called from the airport to say that there was a mechanical problem on the plane. While it was (theoretically) simple to fix, they didn’t know how long it would take the mechanic to show up. There was a chance that they wouldn’t even get out that night (Friday, July 1st).

That’s exactly how the first of these three weekends began, with David and Rebecca (their son and daughter-in-law) not getting out until the next morning! This case turned out differently. Not 15 minutes later they called back to say they were boarding. I’m guessing the mechanic was on a smoke break. Winking smile

Shortly after they arrived at the apartment, nine of us (counting a 2-year-old as a full person) Winking smile walked up to the Peking Duck House for dinner. It’s been a while since we’ve been there (a minor crime against humanity). We had been talking about our need to correct that for the past two weeks, so this worked out perfectly.

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The meal was perfect. I never doubted it would be, but I report it here for the record.

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PekingDuckHouse

Given our music-filled night, we decided that Saturday would be a day of rest for us (conserving our energy). The parents, their daughter and son-in-law went to the Doughnut Plant (the site currently lists a Lower East Side address only, but there is one at 220 W. 23rd St. as well, which is where they went). Afterward, they walked the Highline Park.

They headed over to Broadway to see How to Succeed in Business. All four of them said it was terrific and they were sure both of us would love it. Something to add to the list. Smile

The six of us had a wonderful dinner at El Rio Grande (our favorite Mexican restaurant). In a complete shock, we bumped into a few good friends who were dining there outside. We were seated inside (our choice) on the other side of the window from them. Even though our chats with them were brief (before our meal and after theirs), it was a special delight.

After nearly falling asleep (due to the amazing frozen margaritas), I somehow gathered myself for the epic night of music and easily made it all the way through! I don’t know what the others did, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they didn’t fight the feeling of sleep and succumbed to it. Winking smile

On Sunday morning the four of them attended Church services at Redeemer. They spent some time at the Cooper Hewitt Museum then returned to the apartment to relax a bit. This week is both our and Laura and Chris’ anniversaries. We decided to celebrate at the Old Homestead steakhouse. All six of us couldn’t stop raving about the meal afterward. At least three (perhaps as many as five) counted this meal (and therefore this restaurant) as their favorite steakhouse meal (that includes Lois saying that her Lobster was the best she’s ever had).

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I loved my meal (thoroughly), but I admitted (out loud) that The Palm is still my favorite. I promise not to complain or hesitate to return to the Old Homestead though, should anyone suggest it again. Smile

After dinner, we all wanted (and needed) to walk off the calories (please don’t make me estimate the full damage). We walked the super-long block from the restaurant to the 14th Street entrance to the Highline Park. This was my first time seeing it in person. We walked from 14th St. until the end, currently 30th St. It’s spectacular. I highly recommend making the effort to get there, whether you’re a New Yorker or an out-of-towner here on a visit.

HighlinePark

We collapsed when we got back to the apartment (well, at least Lois and I collapsed, the others may have gone dancing for all I know).

On Monday morning (the venerable July 4th), Chris and I went for a long walk. When we’re in the city, I typically take long walks for exercise. For me, that means somewhere between five and eight miles, depending on my mood and my schedule. I do it 2-3 times a week, if I have the time. Amazingly, blogging is often the cause of me not having the time to walk. The things we do for our readers… Winking smile

Few of you who read this know Chris. He served six years in the Navy and remains in amazing shape by regularly working out. My only hesitation in walking with him, ever, is that he can keep up a grueling pace forever. He can walk backward, faster than I walk forward, and keep it up seemingly forever as well. I negotiated through an intermediary (Laura) that he would drop the drill-sergeant routine this time.

When we got to the Brooklyn Bridge (typically as far as I’d walk), that marked the 3.9 mile point. That would be just under an eight mile walk if we turned around. Chris looked at me and asked if I’d walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him it had been over 30 years since I’d done that, but I was game. Instead, he suggested we just keep trucking further from the apartment. It had been a year since I’d done the loop I knew we were now committing to, but I (happily) agreed.

We continued south, past the Seaport, on to the Staten Island Ferry, where we headed north up the west side. At 34th Street we started the long trek over to the east side. When we arrived at the apartment, Chris was fresh as a daisy. I was a puddle of sweat who dreamt only of removing my sneakers from my feet. Total distance: 11.36 miles (I wear a Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch that they all bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago). Total time was 3:14, but that included a stop in the World Financial Center to check out the progress at Ground Zero.

After a nice lunch out (Euro Diner if you’re keeping score) we veg’ed out all afternoon (I might have even slept a bit, shhh). All of that was to prepare for attending a July 4th party.

Up until three years ago, we used to host an annual 4th of July party on our deck. We had pretty good views of the Macy’s Fireworks when they had them on East River. This is the third year in a row that they were on the Hudson instead and we had no plans to fight the crowds to try and see them.

On Friday, we received an invitation to a party that claimed to have a spectacular view of the fireworks. Under normal circumstances, we would have said yes in a heartbeat, but we would have been adding four strangers to the party list, which felt wrong on our part. I politely declined, explaining why.

In a I’m not taking No for an answer reply, our host told us to bring our guests along. I only had one No in me, so this time I said Yes! We negotiated on what we could bring and settled on Sushi.

What a great plan, until we found out that our go-to Sushi restaurant was closed all weekend. Our backup Sushi place (also exceptional) was going to be closed on Monday as well. In a twist of fate (actually two twists), the first place was clearly marked as being closed all weekend. The backup place hadn’t updated their sign, so when Lois went in, she thought they’d be open on Monday.

Hiroshi Sushi is across the street from our apartment. I filled in our order before Lois walked over. When she started to say what time she wanted the order ready by, she found out that they were closed on Monday. As she was turning to leave, the person she was talking to called her back.

He told her that he remembered us from years earlier when we used to come in all the time with Lois’ mother to their former Japanese Restaurant (a few doors down, now closed for probably eight years!). He was our waiter many of those times. He asked Lois if he could call the owner (and head chef), who was also involved in the other restaurant, to ask if he’d come in just to prepare this order.

20 minutes later he called us and said that the owner would happily do this for us. Wow, we were so grateful. The order was ready to be picked up at exactly 5pm (as promised) and was fantastic (as evidenced by the oohs and aahs of the partiers). I couldn’t resist trying something called “peanut and avocado roll”. Yummy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We also brought a white pizza (for those who might not like Sushi). I had the first two slices (and didn’t notice if anyone else did). Man, that was really good too. Finally, we brought a gigantic fresh fruit salad that was seemingly bottomless, but it got completely devoured (or so I heard), so it apparently had a bottom after all. That too was a big hit.

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On to the actual party (I have a tough time not talking or thinking about food though). Winking smile

When we first arrived at our friend’s apartment we were blown away by the view. But, he lives in a one bedroom (very high up) and we wondered how everyone would get to enjoy the fireworks while being crowded like sardines in the living room. Ah, I’m so naïve at times. That was never the plan.

There was a friend of our friend, who lived 15 floors down (still quite high!). He has a much larger apartment, but more importantly, a massive deck, facing the Hudson River. The two of them decided to combine their parties. In an additional act of generosity, the second host (the friend of our friend), allowed an entire party of his next door neighbors to attend the viewing of the fireworks on his deck, when they were done with their meal (and drinking) on their adjacent (but not facing the river!) deck.

I don’t need to describe the view or the fireworks to you. All of the photos above were taken by Lois, on her compact camera. She took a ton of photos last night too, but I don’t need to share them.

Our friend (Bob) from VA is a semi-professional photographer (with professional equipment). He set up his Nikon on a tripod and captured stunning photos. His daughter (Laura) is following in his footsteps. A few of her shots are included with his. Here’s a representative sample (I’m not compressing these photos, for those of you who want the full effect).

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Followed by the calm after the storm:

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Our friend (let’s call him Host #1) made two pitchers of exotic drinks. The first was green, looked like slime, and was called Key Lime Martini. The second was blue (and frothy) and had Blue Curacao, some coconut stuff and other secret ingredients. I tried the Key Lime first. It was amazing, but one sip was nearly lethal. I am putting my name on a list for when it’s time for me to go, this is the way I’d like to end it all. While I know at least two people who loved it, but purposely didn’t finish theirs (for fear of expiring), I was brave and downed my entire glass.

I later moved on to the Blue mixture. It tasted even better. So much so that I had a second glass (don’t tell Lois!). It didn’t feel as lethal, but for all I know, that’s part of it’s secret. I heard many people raving about this concoction (actually both). Our Host #1 can definitely fall back on Mixologist if his primary profession hits a brick wall. Wow!

Host #2 is a fascinating person who couldn’t have been kinder or more generous (as noted above). In fact, we met many friends of Host #1, each one was a complete delight to converse with. Without a doubt, we’ll be following up with a number of them!

We had to walk a number of blocks before finding the first of the two cabs that got us home and a bit further for the second one.

An absolutely incredible ending to an incredible weekend. I’m no longer annoyed that the fireworks have moved to the west side. I’ll need to be nice to Host #1 for the entire year, just in case Macy’s decides to do it there again next year. It will be hard to keep up the façade, but I’ll do my best. Winking smile

Thank you for including all six of us. It’s a night we’ll never forget!

Chris Ayer at The Living Room

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Topping off an extraordinary night of music was one of our favorites, Chris Ayer. For those of you who are new here, you might require proof that Chris is one of our favorites. Luckily, I can provide that.

Two weeks ago we hosted our first house concert. We wanted a solo, guitar slinging singer/songwriter. Without hesitation, both Lois and I agreed that we should approach Chris first. He said yes, and this was the result. Lois and I share a lot of musical taste in common, but we differ a bunch as well, especially at the extremes. So, agreeing on Chris so easily tells you everything you need to know about how we feel about him.

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Back to last night. We had gotten delicious doses of Chris during both Matt Simons’ and Sierra Noble’s sets. You can read about those sets here and here respectively. You can also get a flavor of the band that supported all three sets.

Let’s start with the traditional photos of Chris’ set list, first from our perspective, then his. The twist is that this time, we’ll throw in a bonus of a bit of his guitar as well (no extra charge!):

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He kicked the set off solo, starting with two very new songs. Great start. Both were good, new material feeds the brain, old (great) material feeds the soul/heart.

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Then Chris brought the band up. A quick rundown (probably repetitious for the stauncher readers out there):

Chris Anderson on electric and upright bass plus vocals. Chris switched back to electric for most of the set, but threw in some upright to keep me on my toes, making Sierra’s set the only one that he exclusively played the upright on.

Ryan Vaughn on drums. Once again, superb.

Greg Mayo on electric guitar and vocals. Since I can never say enough good things about Greg, I feel badly (for me!) to make this one so short. Here goes: he was his usual (awesome) self.

Matt Simons on keyboards (grand piano and electronic) and heavy vocals. As I mentioned in the post about Matt, when Chris and Matt sing together, it’s magic, no matter whose song it is or which one is singing lead. No exception on Chris’ set, Matt was perfect.

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Here’s a group shot (where Matt was out of the picture).

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After a couple of songs with the band, Chris brought up Sierra Noble to sing harmony and play some violin. He gave the band (excluding Matt) a break. When Sierra and Matt sang three-part harmony with Chris, everything got cranked up another level (which only made me mad that Chris clearly was holding something back on the earlier stuff!). Winking smile

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Sierra remained on stage when the band returned.

If you know Chris Ayer’s music, then you know from the set list above what a great choice he made last night. He mixed it up with completely new stuff, great older stuff and very recent stuff. He mixed it up with solo, full band, three-part harmony (without the band), etc. If there’s anything in particular that is your favorite thing about Chris, you were sure to have at least a healthy dose of it last night. If you’re like us and love it all, it was a buffet.

In what has become a bit of a tradition at Chris’ shows, he ended the evening with a descent into the crowd to perform Roy G Biv. As he did the last time he played The Living Room, the entire band descended with him. Well, they all did except for Ryan Vaughn who remained at the drums.

Chris (and everyone else) would have none of that. Since the most critical thing Ryan would be playing during Roy G Biv is the cowbell (look up the lyrics if you don’t know why), they teased him about the fact that cowbells are notoriously portable. He didn’t protest too much. He too came into the audience with a few percussion goodies in hand.

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Once Ryan was in, the party could begin. Chris actually kept turning (slowly) in a full 360, to make sure everyone got serenaded head on.

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The rest might be a bit hard to pick out, but here’s one shot that has Sierra in the background and Greg Mayo playing guitar. The highlight of the picture are Matt Simon’s hands, leading the audience in keeping the beat by clapping.

RoyGBivInTheAudience

A fantastic, energetic end to one of our best nights out. From 8pm until nearly midnight, without a single disappointing song, surrounded by friends who enjoyed it every bit as much as we did. It doesn’t get much better than this, but I promise, we’ll keep trying to disprove that! Smile

Sierra Noble at The Living Room

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In what is obviously becoming a regular occurrence, we discover new musicians in the following cycle: 1) they perform side-person duties with someone we regularly see, 2) we see some mini-set where they headline a portion, 3) we see them perform a full set of their own, falling madly in love with them directly.

Sierra Noble fits that cycle perfectly, but amazingly, I was indifferent after that first side-person performance (nothing negative). Then we saw her at Backscratch 13. Here’s what I wrote about Sierra that night:

Sierra Noble on vocals, acoustic guitar and violin. We’ve seen Sierra Noble backing up both Rachel Platten and Martin Rivas (back-to-back sets on the same night). I am aware of how much her fellow musicians respect and love her, but that night, while she did a fine job, I didn’t see the light. Last night, headlining the three-song set, I got it. She has an incredible voice. She writes beautiful songs.

Ha! I thought I got it, seriously, I really thought so. Last night, she hit me over the head with a sledgehammer (in the nicest way that one human being can do that to another). Here’s the point: at Backscratch, I realized she wrote beautiful songs. Last night (and now, listening to her CDs) I realize that she’s a phenomenal songwriter, consistently. In other words, she doesn’t just write beautiful songs, they pour out of her!

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At the same time, she has a great voice and style. I don’t feel that it’s necessary to compare any artist to another, but on the other hand, it’s sometimes helpful to get people interested in listening to someone new if they have a frame of reference. For me, Sierra’s voice evokes a mixture of Alison Krauss and Ruth Moody (of The Wailin’ Jennys).

The fact that Sierra and Alison both play fiddle has nothing to do with my comparison, it’s more about their voices. The fact that Sierra and Ruth both hail from Winnipeg may have more to do with the water they drink up there (the three days a year that it isn’t frozen). Winking smile

Sierra played acoustic guitar and the violin/fiddle on most songs and sang without instruments, backed by a full band on the remaining songs.

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Sierra was backed by the same band that played with Matt Simons the set before and with Chris Ayer the next set. I’ll just mention them briefly here, then continue with a few more of the highlights of Sierra’s set.

Left-to-right on the stage:

Chris Anderson on upright bass and light vocals. On the two earlier sets Chris played electric bass. He played the upright exclusively during this set. He’s masterful on both.

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Ryan Vaughn on drums. Excellent (again).

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Greg Mayo on acoustic and electric guitar and vocals. In my last post, I inadvertently said that Greg played both electric and acoustic (already corrected). He didn’t play acoustic during Matt’s set, but did play both on Sierra’s. On the acoustic he did some heavy finger picking (always a treat to see Greg perform varied styles!).

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Sierra also highlighted Greg on the song Bring an Angel, which they co-wrote.

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Sierra brought up Chris Ayer for two songs. The first was her amazing song Human After All, co-written with Michael Logen. We’ve seen Michael perform it twice (both times solo) and now Sierra perform it twice (both times with a male harmonizer). It’s a great song performed both ways, but give me a choice, and I’ll take the harmony every time. Make it Sierra and Chris and my heart will skip a few beats as well. Martin Rivas did an amazing job when he sang it with Sierra at Backscratch 13!

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The second song that Chris sang with Sierra was a song they co-wrote (recently) called Keep it With You. Wonderful, both the song and their performance. Chris added the acoustic guitar during this number.

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In keeping with the title Human After All, Sierra honored a friend and mentor who passed away three years ago today, July 3rd, 2008. She introduced the song saying that in most shows, she plays an upbeat fiddle medley. Instead, in memory of her friend, she would play a song he wrote for her.

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Oliver Schroer sounds like an extraordinary person (and a great musician as well). Sierra performed the instrumental, True Hearts Waltz. I’m impressed that she got through it. Clearly, this was an emotional undertaking for her. Our connection with Sierra grew immeasurably at that moment.

I started the above by relating it to Human After All. That’s what we are folks, whether we like it or not. All too often, we forget loved ones when they’re gone. Perhaps worse (though only on a few levels) is when we don’t have gratitude and love in our heart for people that help and inspire us along the way (noone makes their way through life on their own).

Witnessing Sierra Noble honor Oliver, and much more importantly, do her part in keeping his legacy alive by sharing with it people who didn’t have the privilege of knowing him, made both Lois and me very happy. That Sierra can feel and articulate this kind of human understanding at the tender age of 21 (did I fail to mention her age before?!?!?) is simply extraordinary.

Whew, back to the set. Here is the set list, though I think she might have played an additional song or two after the ones listed here:

SetList

Sierra announced that she has an EP available for purchase at iTunes and that she’s working on a new full-length CD. Given a choice, I will always purchase from Amazon.com over iTunes. Thankfully, Sierra’s EP, Possibilities, is available on Amazon. Not only did I buy it (it’s incredible), but I also discovered that she has a full-length CD from 2005 (she was 15!). I bought that too, Spirit of the Strings. It too is gorgeous.

That wasn’t enough. When I visited Sierra’s Bandcamp Page, I saw that she had a smaller version of the Possibilities EP available for full streaming (and purchase). While it only has four songs vs Amazon’s six, there is a bonus track on Bandcamp that isn’t on the Amazon version. It’s a song she played last night: Coming Home to Say Goodbye (second song on the set list). I love the song, so I had to buy this one track separately as well.

OK, now you all go out and do what I did. Let’s make sure this youngster continues to make music for a very long time!

Matt Simons at The Living Room

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We’ve seen quite a bit of Matt Simons in the past few months, but they’ve all been in his exceptional role as sideman for a number of other artists who we follow. It’s been four months since we’ve seen him headline a set. Thankfully, that drought ended last night at The Living Room.

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Matt is a multi-instrumentalist with an excellent voice. When he headlines he always plays the keyboards (piano and electronic). I guess trying to sing and play the saxophone (he’s awesome) presents some logistical challenges (if anyone can solve that problem, I have faith in Matt). Winking smile

Matt opened the show solo with a powerful song (Miss You More) that had everyone stone silent. I laugh at my internal dialog at these kind of moments. I think “who needs a band at all?” Then the band joins, and I think “why ever play solo?”, etc. The real point is that both solo and with a band, Matt (and many others!) get it just right.

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Proving my point, right after Miss You More, Matt invited the band up. This is the same core band that played for the next two sets as well. Two of them played with Rebecca Haviland in an earlier set at Rockwood Music Hall (covered here). In other words, they played for the better part of four hours. Yeomen indeed!

I didn’t spy a set list, which indicates one of three things: 1) there wasn’t one, and Matt just winged it, 2) Matt had one on the piano and purposely hid it from me, or 3) it was written with invisible ink on invisible paper (again, probably to thwart me). Therefore, I can’t easily share with you the titles to all of his songs, though he played a number of them that I love.

The core band, left-to-right on stage:

Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris also sang light backup vocals. Chris is one of our favorite bass players. Check out my previous post (linked above in “covered here”) for more on Chris, including his singing and songwriting chops.

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Ryan Vaughn on drums. I’ve been writing a lot about Ryan lately, as he’s been drumming more often with the people that we consistently go out to see. Our previous sightings always came when Ryan played percussion (not the drum kit) on Martin Rivas’ sets. Ryan is great and exhibited many different styles across the three consecutive sets last night.

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Greg Mayo on electric guitar and light vocals. I mentioned in the last post about my mind control abilities. On the first song that Greg appeared, he took a fantastic lead (I think he’s patented them, so if don’t want to go to jail, don’t try and copy them!). Before explaining the mind control aspect, I need to digress.

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Having true, committed fans, is one of the hallmarks of the music business. We (yes, we count ourselves as true, committed fans) will do an awful lot to support the musicians we love. Yesterday I tweeted an article that implores musicians to find a way to connect their fans with each other. Here’s a real-world example of the result of that advice.

We attended a fantastic house concert in VA hosted by Lindsie. That night featured Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell. We met Lindsie that night, due to our mutual love of Ian, Chad and Mike. Since then, Lindsie (being a true fan!) came up to see Ian Axel headline Bowery Ballroom and we hung out in front of the stage with her throughout the show. Last night, she came up again to catch these three consecutive sets and again, we sat together. Her friend Ashley (sp?) joined her this time.

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A number of last night’s artists were new to Lindsie, including Greg Mayo. Before Greg took the stage, I turned to Lindsie and told her that Greg is my favorite local guitar player and that she was about to have her mind blown. Finally, back on track, immediately after his lead in the first song, I turned toward Lindsie and rolled my eyes in disbelief at how quickly he proved me correct! Smile

But, while Greg was perfect in his support of Matt on the remaining songs, he didn’t take a real lead again (no complaints). Just as they started Matt’s last song of the set, that thought came to me front and center. Of course, given my mind control powers, Greg took another great lead. Damn. I should have remembered that I probably could have called up as many leads as I wanted throughout the set. Oh well, next time! Smile

Matt called up Chris Ayer to sing and play acoustic guitar a number of times (Chris headlined the 11pm set). The two of them sings so beautifully together, whether it’s Chris supporting Matt on his songs, or vice versa (as happened a bunch in the last set).

On one number, Matt came out from behind the piano and sang, with Chris accompanying him on vocals and acoustic guitar. Gorgeous!

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Matt called up Sierra Noble to sing harmony with Chris Ayer as well. That role has traditionally been filled by Morgan Holland. Since Morgan is returning to CA for a Master’s degree, she won’t be available to sing with Matt and Chris. While Sierra is a star in her own right (and therefore won’t be available often to sing with them), having her join them last night was a real treat.

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For the second to last song, both Chris and Sierra returned (after someone having to go out and find them!). This time Sierra added her violin to the mix!

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I’m a big fan of Matt and always enjoy his sets. But, I’ll definitively claim last night’s set to be the best we’ve seen so far, though doubtlessly it will be topped in the future!

Matt and Chris Ayer both leave tomorrow for a tour of the UK and Holland. Some of the dates/venues can be seen on Matt’s Facebook Page. You can also stream some of his songs there (or on MySpace linked at the top). But, to listen to Matt, I recommend you visit his Bandcamp page. There, you can hear a lot of his songs in their entirety, for free. Then you can buy all of them, or the ones you like best, etc. I love the model where you aren’t buying blind, or off an unrepresentative sample of the song.

Referring back to the “connect your fans” section above, a number of our friends were there last night (which is typical). Let me know if you prefer Kelly or Sam to wear the hat when their picture is taken. Winking smile

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Rachel

Rebecca Haviland at Rockwood Music Hall

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We attended a Leave a Lasting Mark benefit show on Thursday. Rebecca Haviland was one of the many performers that night. She performed a version of Carolina On My Mind that captivated the audience. You can read about it here.

Even though we had a jam-packed 48 hours in between, I admit that I was still distracted a number of times, anticipating Rebecca performing a full set at Rockwood Music Hall.

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This was only the second full set that we’ve seen by Rebecca. The first one was five weeks ago. In that post I mis-identified one of her new songs as “Sing”. Looking more closely at the set list (and having Rebecca correct me), it’s called Sins. She didn’t play it last night, so I don’t know why I felt the need to correct that here. Winking smile

Rebecca is in the midst of a writing spree. We all are the beneficiaries of that. Well, all of us who see her perform live. Later today she should be launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new CD (I’ll update this post with the link once I get it). Once that gets funded (and it will!), the rest of you who don’t live in NYC or don’t come out for live music, can hear what I’m talking about.

While Rebecca sings a variety of styles (all equally well), at heart, she’s a blues rocker, and a darn good one. Last night’s set was mostly originals (I love every one of them) plus a few extraordinary covers. One of my favorites (it grabbed me the first time I heard it) is If You. The chorus has a recurring “Oh, oh oh oh oh”. At times Rebecca is singing that too, at other times she’s singing over that.

The last time we saw her, she invited the crowd to sing the “Oh, oh oh oh oh” part with her and we all did. Last night, without thinking about it, I started singing it (out loud) with her. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the audience singing (as we weren’t explicitly invited this time). Even though I was self-conscious for a second, I admit to continuing to sing it each time the chorus repeated. Ha, that’s how I roll (occasionally, OK, rarely). Winking smile

We didn’t snag the set list (I’ll have to talk to my minions about that oversight!), so I can’t share all the song titles with you. In addition to If You, I’m sure Rebecca played Collide With Me and Direction (also new, unreleased) along with at least two other brand new ones.

The two other covers were her signature version of Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog and another Zeppelin number that she morphed into (and back out of) mid-song.

After singing two songs with the band, Rebecca dismissed them and fulfilled my secret wish. She played Carolina On My Mind. For those of us who had seen her perform it Thursday, there was a deep satisfaction in not having had to wait too long to hear it again. For the newbies, I can only assume that their minds were sufficiently blown. In my next post (there will be four today!) you’ll see that I need to use my extraordinary powers of mind control more often (I promise to use my powers for good only).

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Before bringing the band back, Rebecca brought back Chris Anderson. In addition to being Rebecca’s bass player (electric bass last night), Chris is also Rebecca’s primary writing partner on her current project. He’s also been singing background vocals a lot more, thanks to Rebecca prodding him. In addition to singing a lot of harmony last night, Chris also sang lead on one number, kicking off the first verse on his own.

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We got to meet Chris’ parents, who came to hear him serenade his fans:

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After one (or possibly two) numbers performed by Rebecca and Chris alone, the rest of the band rejoined.

Greg Mayo on keyboards and background vocals. Fantastic, as always. I’ll have more to say about Greg in the next three posts.

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Kenny Shaw on drums. After seeing Kenny perform five times in one week, he decided to hide from us. Exactly one month later, we picked up his trail again. He was his usual solid self, complementing Rebecca really well. In particular, when Rebecca morphed into her second Zeppelin cover, Kenny was instrumental in supporting her.

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Sierra Noble was called up as a special guest to play the violin/fiddle on one number, taking a long solo. The sound complemented Rebecca perfectly (though a good violin solo complements a variety of music beautifully). My third post of the night will be about Sierra Noble’s own set, but the other two will mention her as well. Last night was a big ol’ party. Smile

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Before Thursday’s benefit, we reached out to Rebecca and asked her to bring all of her previous CDs for us to purchase. We got two of them at the show (a full CD: Three Thousand Miles and an EP: What I’m Sayin’). As I noted at the top, we had a very busy 48 hours, so I haven’t gotten to listen to either yet (hopefully later today).

Last night, Rebecca brought us the earliest one, Taking Advice From Strangers (from 2003-2004). I’m listening to that one now while typing this. Gorgeous. A bitt Jazzier than much of her current stuff, with as perfect a voice as you could hope for. Lovely lyrics, I’m drifting… a.w..a…y….

Here’s a suggestion for Rebecca: make one of your levels on Kickstarter include all of your past CDs (I suggest $50) so that your more recent fans can find out that your talent is deep, broad, wide, and consistent, for at least eight years, probably more! (Disclaimer: this advice is free, I am not a paid endorser.) Winking smile

Bri Arden at Rockwood Music Hall

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Prior to seeing this show we attended a benefit concert at The Bitter End. I wrote about it here, which included a section on Bri Arden (the subject of this post). After it was over, Lois couldn’t keep her eyes open, so she grabbed a cab and headed home. Unfortunately, she took her camera with her. I took five shots with my (original) Droid. All were so bad that I won’t insult anyone who was on stage by posting them, so there will be no photos.

I walked from The Bitter End to see Bri and her band perform at Rockwood Music Hall. For those that care, including waiting at a few lights, it took 18 minutes.

I’ve seen Bri sing lead on two songs, at two different Leave a Lasting Mark benefits (both at The Bitter End). She was spectacular both times. I was very interested in seeing her headline her own set.

In addition to being a singer/songwriter, Bri is also a student at Columbia University. This year she entered the Battle of the College Bands. She won in the NY region! Yet another reason to go see her. The place was mobbed, so I wasn’t the only genius with the idea to do this.

Bri has a fantastic voice. She brings a passion to her singing that’s infectious. For the first time, I was hearing songs that she wrote (or co-wrote). They were all good in terms of being catchy. Given how much was happening on stage, I can’t say that I heard all of the lyrics (or could pay close attention to them), so I’ll save heavier comments about that aspect for a future post. What I heard, I liked, so I don’t mean to imply anything negative.

This was a show, not just a singer/songwriter performance. For starters, this was the most people that I’ve ever seen on the Rockwood 1 stage at the same time, nine for two songs, eight for most of the rest. In addition to a full band, there were two full-time backup singers (without instruments).

I kept thinking that this group of 8+ people could easily fill the sound of a much larger place (by much larger, I mean 1000+ seat places!).

Not counting Bri, five of the eight people on stage were part of the earlier benefit show, so you can click on the link in the first sentence on top to see what I had to say about each of them. I’ll be extremely brief here.

Backup singers: Kate Ferber and Valerie Mize. Each is a legitimate lead singer in their own right (not a theoretical comment, they each are lead singers). That gives them a sensibility and a voice to complement Bri perfectly.

Justin Goldner on electric bass. Simply an awesome bass player (or, as they add in the show Wicked, “Well, not so simply!”).

Jake Cohen on drums. Excellent. I was particularly impressed that he was not too loud, even though he was supporting eight other people. In Rockwood 1, it’s unbelievable easy (and therefore common) for a drummer to be crazy loud when there are electric instruments.

Ian Schaefer on trumpet. Ian was excellent, as he was earlier at the benefit.

Two additional musicians joined Bri for most of the songs:

Oscar Bautista on electric guitar. I’ve seen Oscan once before, at the Soul Revue Benefit. He was excellent that night, but less highlighted, by necessity. Last night, as part of a much smaller ensemble, Oscar was a main component of Bri’s sound. He was more obviously excellent. Smile

Jason Wexler on grand piano and electronic keyboards. I just saw Jason support Jeff Litman on a few numbers this past Monday at the same piano. He was excellent then, as he was last night.

Craig Wilson joined Bri on three numbers, two on acoustic guitar (which made it nine on stage) and once at the piano (when he replaced Jason during that song). Bri introduced him as one of her main writing partners, so presumably Craig co-wrote all three of the songs. He didn’t sing when he was playing guitar and I couldn’t see him on the piano (but I could hear him play very well).

All in all, a very exciting show delivered with extremely high energy. The crowd would not let Bri off the stage without an encore and Rockwood obliged, even though Bri’s set started a bit late and therefore had run a bit over as well.

I’m glad I made the effort and I will happily do it again.