Matt Cusson at Rockwood Music Hall

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Matt Cusson played his first ever show at Rockwood Music Hall last night. I’m sure it won’t be his last.

We hadn’t heard of him before, though after reading about him, I’m surprised at that. Thankfully, we have friends with excellent taste in music (in fact, we met them over a shared table at Joe’s Pub, a few years ago). They reached out and asked whether we wanted to join them for Matt’s show. Without knowing anything about him, our answer was yes. Smile

MattCusson

I encourage you to read about him as well, as my description from a single set won’t do him justice. What I saw last night was a young man with a number of incredible talents:

  • amazing keyboards player (electronic last night, but I think he avoided the grand just to be front-and-center on the stage, I didn’t notice any particular effects)
  • wonderful voice (including the kind of control that is required in a number of the styles that Matt sings, R&B/Soul/Jazz)
  • excellent songwriter (even though Matt made a name for himself in other bands and with cover tours, he will clearly eventually leave his mark with his own music)
  • fantastic stage presence (even if the above weren’t true, he could bluff his way through a set and people would walk out smiling, having enjoyed his quick wit, natural style and warmth)

MattCussonKeyboards

In addition to playing some of his own tunes (including one or two brand new ones), he played a couple of older ones (including Comfortable, a John Mayer cover which Matt was well-known for). He also played a short medley of Michael Jackson songs. From what I understand, his range is much broader than he had time to display last night.

MattCussonSinging

Matt was joined by two musicians:

Rich Zurkowski on electric bass (I couldn’t find a good individual link to him). Rich was outstanding on the bass. He was often the only melodic accompaniment (when Matt was playing chords), given that there wasn’t a guitar as well. His fingers were flying up and down the frets the entire set, always sounding in perfect unison/harmony with Matt’s voice and keyboard play.

RichZurkowski

On one number late in the set, Matt highlighted the band, including giving Rich a really long lead. It was mind-bogglingly good. I’m already looking forward to catching Rich again, any time, anywhere.

RichZurkowskiBass

Adam Hanson on drums. Adam did a nice job on the drums throughout. On the same song that Rich was highlighted, so was Adam. Matt prompted him to continue his introductory solo a few times, then turned it over to him later in the song again for a longer solo. While I enjoyed his play, he wasn’t quite as loose or creative as Jazz drumming can/should be.

AdamHanson

Matt introduced his fiancée to the audience:

MattCussonFiancee2MattCussonFiancee1

Before the show, we had dinner with our friends at The Meatball Shop. So good, I’m still thinking out the BBQ Pork meatballs (the special last night). We would eat there more often if it wasn’t always so jammed (rightfully so).

MerryLloyd

Thanks for introducing us to Matt Cusson, and for being willing to meet/eat early enough to get seats at The Meatball Shop! Smile

Happy Ending Music and Reading Series at Joe’s Pub

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Since the remodel, we seem to be racking up the frequent flyer miles at Joe’s Pub. We were back there again last night for something different than our usual fare.

The Happy Ending Music and Reading Series is founded, curated, hosted and produced by Amanda Stern. It’s been going on for a while (to large audiences and rave reviews), mostly held at Joe’s Pub, but I gather not always.

We don’t typically take the time to seek out new forms of entertainment (as thought provoking as they might be), given our crazy schedule. It takes an alignment of interests to push our boundaries. Last night it was the musical guests in the Music part of the title that got us to discover this series.

Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino don’t play all that often in NYC (even though they live here), so we grab every opportunity we can to see them, even when the set is known to be short. They were advertised as playing six songs (three to open the show and three to close it). It turned out to be five songs (two then three), but that was fine.

ChadVaccarinoIanAxel

I admit that hearing the other part of the series, authors reading their works, intrigued me.

Amanda opened the show. In order to promote the current sponsor of the series, Three by Three Seattle, Amanda did a pop-quiz, asking the audience about personal habits/foibles, rather than actual facts. People who answered interestingly, won a large magnet (dog, cat or arrow). The questions (and often amusing answers) continued until all magnets were given out.

AmandaStern

While it was clear from the outset that Amanda is quite clever and quick, I couldn’t be sure whether she was nervous or awkward. It was fun, but it wasn’t the smoothest beginning I’ve seen.

Amanda also described the series. Musicians frame the readings. Each author reads for 10 minutes or less (I’m told they get yanked from the stage if they go over, but I don’t believe it). Winking smile Then each author is required to perform a risk (personal challenge). They are asked to do something that would otherwise make them uncomfortable.

Amanda introduced Ian who came out alone. He sat at the baby grand piano. Joe’s has a great sound system and hearing Ian on a real piano (it’s often an electronic keyboard) was an absolute joy. Nearly every audience for every type of show at Joe’s is there to enjoy the performance (last night was no exception), so it was wonderfully quiet as well.

IanAxelSinging

Ian played Waltz and Gone.

IanAxelSingingPiano

Amanda returned to introduce the first author.

Diane Williams read six short stories. There was very clever writing, pacing, imagery going on, but I can’t say it’s the type of material I would personally choose to read. A few times (not too many) there were just enough vulgarities that would cause some people to instantly turn off. In most of those cases it wasn’t obvious to me whether they added to the story or were there for shock value (or to be cool).

DianeWilliams

Diane declined to do the risk portion on stage. She noted that simply agreeing to read her stories in public was risk enough for her. Smile

Amanda returned to introduce the next author.

Hari Kunzru read from a chapter in an upcoming book (to be published this spring). It appeared to be about 2/3’s to 3/4’s of the way into the book. I enjoyed both the concept and his delivery, though of course I have no idea how it fits in with the overall book.

HariKunzru

For his risk, Harry told a long (and completely captivating) story, leading up to the actual risk, juggling. Smile

HariKunzruJuggling

Amanda returned again to introduce the final author.

Adam Rapp read the first chapter from his upcoming book (also to be published this spring). It’s the kind of material I used to eat up when I was younger. First-person narrative (though Adam explained that there were four main characters, each of whom has their own voice in the book, but the first chapter is just one of them), that bounces all over the place, keeping your mind juggling (I was inspired by Hari to use that word!) a variety of images, not knowing where they’re heading.

AdamRapp

For his risk, Adam sang the chorus to Don’t Know Much (a Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville tune, one of my favorites). He sang it in his best Aaron Neville impression. The reason this was his risk? According to him, he sings it in Aaron’s voice, at home, every day. Winking smile

Amanda returned to introduce Ian, this time introducing Chad Vaccarino as well.

ChadVaccarino

Ian and Chad performed You’ll Be OK followed by This is the New Year. To repeat, with the sound system at Joe’s, and Ian on a real piano, wow is the only word to describe their delivery.

IanAxelChadVaccarino

Chad left the stage and Ian closed with the obligatory cover. I might not have mentioned above, but just like each author has to take a risk, each musician has to play one cover, and they have to try to get the audience to sing along.

Ian chose Randy Newman’s You’ve Got a Friend in Me. I am not sure how many people sang along, but I am 100% sure that Ian was awesome in his rendition. His piano play was crisp and his vocals were perfect. Randy would have been proud if he was there (perhaps he was, but he didn’t bother to introduce himself to me).

Amanda said her goodbyes immediately thereafter. I mentioned that she might have been nervous kicking off the show. While she never came across as a professional speaker, she definitely got more comfortable each time she stepped on the stage (a total of six times). She’s smart, funny, clever and quick. I haven’t read any of her books, but I’m betting those characteristics are apparent there as well.

Here is the program for the evening. Click on any picture for a larger image:

Program

We ran into friends there as well. Smile

TerKevinChadVaccarinoIanAxelHadar

An Australian fan (other than me) went up to speak to Ian and Chad after the show!

IanAxelAustralianFan

Rebecca Haviland at Arlene’s Grocery

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Have I mentioned how much we love Rebecca Haviland before? If you don’t know the answer to that question, then welcome to this space, clearly you’re a first-timer. Winking smile

It’s been roughly six weeks since we’ve seen Rebecca perform. That’s bad enough, but she had a few shows in between that we couldn’t attend, including one co-bill with Sierra Noble. The last time we saw Rebecca was also at Arlene’s Grocery (the site of last night’s show). Given how good Howard (the sound engineer at Arlene’s) is and how hard he works to balance their sound, I was happy to return there.

RebeccaHaviland

Rebecca and the band were awesome and Howard played his part in it as well. They performed most (all?) of the songs off of her upcoming CD (Rebecca announced that it was currently being mixed, so we’re getting closer folks). Here’s the set list:

SetList

We attend shows by the same artist many times for a number of reasons, some of which I recently articulated. One of the reasons is also the serendipitous surprises that occur on occasion (more often than you might guess, if you’re open to spotting them).

We both feel blessed that in addition to loving a lot of the music currently being played by many of the NYC indie artists, we genuinely love many of the people themselves (headliners, side-people, fans, venue staff, videographers, producers, significant others, etc.). I can’t say I expected that bonus when we first immersed ourselves in the scene here, in April 2009.

We love them, because they’re wonderful people independent of their involvement in music. That sometimes happens in a vacuum, but rarely. Usually, there are some pretty amazing parents behind them, having figured out some magic to turn out these young adults (young by our standards, for sure).

Last night we got to meet two sets of those parents, Rebecca’s (including her brother and his girlfriend) and Kenny Shaw’s. It didn’t take 30 seconds to see why Rebecca and Kenny turned out the way they did. Good job Havilands and Shaws! Smile

RebeccasFamilyRebeccaHavilandMom

KennyShawParents

Rebecca was accompanied by the same band she had last time out at Arlene’s, which (technically) had one fill-in for her more typical setup. For two reasons, I’m going to cover them from right-to-left, rather my usual left-to-right order:

Chris Anderson on electric bass (two actually, though not at the same time) and vocals. Chris is Rebecca’s primary writing partner on most of the numbers on the new CD (hence my desire to cover him first). He also sings harmony on every number. Independent of that, he’s a great bass player and that’s evident at every show (including last night).

ChrisAndersonChrisAndersonBass

Kenny Shaw on drums. While Rebecca is considered a Rock person, most of her numbers are very soulful, bluesy ones, which call for less than straight-up drumming. But, she’s also an all-out rocker on occasion, calling for highly energetic and fast drumming. Kenny delivers both styles, equally well, seamlessly switching between them whenever appropriate. For a specific example, on It’s Not Wrong, Kenny really tore it up, switching into high gear.

KennyShaw

Todd Caldwell on electronic keyboards and vocals. Last time at Arlene’s was our first time hearing Todd. He impressed then, but was even better last night (he’s probably just getting more comfy with the material). He plays keyboards for Stephen Stills and Crosby, Stills and Nash, so you don’t need me to tell you how good he is (other than to tell you how well he fits with Rebecca’s music and band).

ToddCaldwell

While Todd was excellent on every number, the last two included a number of leads on his part, all absolutely terrific. He sang harmony (making it 3-part) on a few songs as well.

ToddCaldwellRebeccaHaviland

Another winning performance from Rebecca and her band.

You can catch her this coming Saturday (Jan 14th) at Rockwood Music Hall, 9pm. If our dinner ends early enough, we’ll be there, but whether we make it or not, you should go! Smile

Chicks With Dip Joni Mitchell Blue Tribute at Christopher Street Coffeehouse

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Chicks With Dip is a songwriter circle consisting of extremely talented female singer/songwriters. A few of them co-founded a coffeehouse series at the St. John’s Lutheran Christopher Street Church. How they came up with the name Christopher Street Coffeehouse is still a mystery. Winking smile

In addition to providing incredible music on a regular (pretty much weekly) basis, the Chicks come together as a full ensemble to do good works. Last night was one such gathering. Our previous time at the Christopher Street Coffeehouse was for a benefit for one of their own members, Victoria Lavington. I covered that event in this post.

This time, the Chicks got together to raise money for the Coffeehouse itself. They donated their time and talent. There was quite a large crowd, so this was a very successful effort.

They chose to honor the 40th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s release of Blue as the theme for the evening.

We went for a few reasons:

  1. We like to support good causes
  2. We like to hear and support talented people
  3. It’s been way too long since we’ve seen Sharon Goldman, Carolann Solebello and Victoria Lavington perform

Unfortunately, while I love a number of Joni Mitchel songs, not a single one of them is on the Blue album. I’m not a fan. That didn’t stop me from coming out to support them anyway. Smile

Here is the program, cover, inside and back cover:

ProgramCoverProgramProgramBackCover

Rather than have me share my impressions, I saw the following review in my Facebook stream. He’s in love with the Blue album, and knows all of the Chicks well, so you’re way better off reading his take and enjoying his photos. Bonus points if you can spot Lois in one of his photos. Winking smile

Lois took a ton of pictures, some of which came out OK, but since the photos in the above link are better lit and taken from closer up, I’ll leave you with a single shot from the big finale, where everyone joined in to sing Big Yellow Taxi:

BigYellowTaxiFinale

Sierra Noble and Michael Sackler-Berner at Joe’s Pub

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Sierra Noble was opening for Michael Sackler-Berner at Joe’s Pub last night. We weren’t supposed to be in NYC. After missing Sierra last week, when she played a co-bill with Rebecca Haviland, we decided that we had to get our priorities straight. We cut our trip short and returned in time to attend with two friends. Smile

Joe’s Pub was our favorite venue in NYC for nearly four years. For a number of reasons, we ended up not attending a single show there for 20 months! Now that they’ve remodeled the inside and switched to assigned seats (tables), we’ve been back three times in seven weeks. I’m sure we’ll continue to attend regularly.

Sierra played a full set (which was so welcome, because sometimes openers get short-shrift) and was fantastic on every number. As always, she switched between acoustic guitar and fiddle, impressing on both. Of course, her vocals (even though she was fighting a cold) were amazing.

SierraNobleSierraNobleGuitar

All that said, she’s simply a great songwriter (and she picks great people to co-write with as well), so even if her cold had been worse, listening to her (and her band) play those songs would have been worth the trip. Here’s the set list:

SierraNobleSetList

Speaking of her band, let’s give them the credit they are due, left-to-right on stage:

Greg Mayo on electric and acoustic guitar and vocals. If this isn’t your first time here, then you know that Greg Mayo is my favorite local guitar player. If it is your first time, now you know that too! Smile

GregMayo

When Sierra was on acoustic guitar, Greg was on electric. When she was on fiddle he was on acoustic. He sang a lot of harmony and was as good as he ever is.

Seth Faulk on drums and vocals. Seth was masterful on the drums, which for most of the set were on the very subtle side (lots of brushes, with some mallets thrown in for good measure). He got to let loose on the last number, DABE, which is a collection of fiddle tunes that are highly energetic.

SethFaulk

Seth has a wonderful voice (I’ve written about that a number of times) and he sang even more than Greg did. Most of the time it was three part harmony with Sierra and Greg and it was luscious.

GregMayoSierraNobleSethFaulk3PartHarmony

Brian Killeen on upright bass. Brian was filling in for Chris Anderson who is on vacation. Since Brian is independently one of our favorite bass players (as is Chris), I wasn’t nervous as to whether Brian would sound good, even though he’s not familiar with Sierra’s catalog. I was right, no need to worry.

BrianKilleen

The biggest difference was that Chris sings a bunch with Sierra and Brian doesn’t know the material well enough to fill in there.

That led to another highlight of the set.

Martin Rivas was invited up to sing the duet Human After All (that Chris has been singing with Sierra at the last few shows). Martin has such a great voice and knows the song well. Sierra and Martin nailed it.

MartinRivasSierraNobleMartinRivas

Sierra co-wrote Human After All with Michael Logen. When I first saw Michael Logen perform, he did that song solo. After the show I went up to him to ask whether it had been on TV. I told him I was sure I heard it before and fell in love with it instantly. He said it had come close to being placed, but sadly, was never on TV.

Then I remembered that I had heard it just the week before, when Sierra played it at a Backscratch. She sang it with Martin that night as well. It turns out that I was prescient. Human After All was just recently featured on Parenthood, on NBC, in season 3 episode 11.

Sierra asked Martin to stay and sing background on the next two numbers as well, creating lovely four-part harmony with Greg and Seth. #winning

SierraNoble4PartHarmony

In fact, on I Can See, Sierra asked the audience to sing along. It sounded really good from where I was sitting. I hope it did to her on stage as well. Smile

We had never heard of Michael Sackler-Berner (MSB) before, but were looking forward to serendipitously discovering him.

I really like his voice a lot and he plays the guitar quite nicely (mostly electric, but he switched to acoustic a couple of times). With the exception of a couple of very mellow folky songs (which I liked as well), most of the numbers were very high energy accompanied by a full band.

MichaelSackler-BernerAcousticGuitarMichaelSackler-BernerElectricGuitar

I had trouble concentrating on the lyrics (not really sure why), but the few times I was able to zone in, I was impressed with his imagery and phrasing. It will require more serious listening to determine whether this is true across a majority of his songs.

MichaelSackler-BernerSinging

MSB closed the show by inviting Sierra up (with her fiddle). He dismissed the band and played the acoustic guitar. They sang together (beautifully) and each sang verses on the lead. What a terrific way to end the evening!

MichaelSackler-BernerSierraNoble

His band was very good and tight. Left-to-right on stage:

Ben Stivers on keyboards (electronic and grand piano). He was quite good on both, including standing for the entire first number while playing the grand piano.

BenStivers

Henry Geller on electric guitar. I can’t find a good individual link, but I’m betting he’s the guitarist profiled in Rough Waters. He was very good.

HenryGeller

Liberty DeVitto on drums. He was great. Very hard hitter, very energetic, tight as a drum (OK, I couldn’t resist). Winking smile

LibertyDeVittoDrums

MSB mentioned on stage that he saw Liberty play when he (MSB) was 11-years old and fell in love with him. Later, DeVitto joked that he was just 14 at the time. If you clicked through to the link above, then you know that Liberty was Billy Joel’s drummer for 30 years! I’m betting that MSB saw a Billy Joel concert at the Nassau Coliseum when he was 11.

Paul Frazier on electric bass and vocals. He was fantastic on the bass (even though he was handicapped by being a lefty, like Paul McCartney). Winking smile He was also the only member of the band to sing harmony with MSB, very nicely! Very impressive performance.

PaulFrazier

Here’s MSB’s set list:

MichaelSackler-BernerSetList

We spotted Liberty as he was heading out and got to tell him how wonderful his play was and snap this picture as well:

LibertyDeVitto

Right after taking that picture, we headed out and got to say hello to Sierra, Seth and Greg. Brian had already left to get the car.

SethFaulkSierraNobleGregMayo

Totally worth having come back early, including enjoying our friends’ company before and after the show. The last two times we were at Joe’s Pub, they couldn’t make me my favorite Chocolate Martini. After they completed the remodel, they hadn’t stocked up on Chocolate Liqueur yet.

They finally remedied that situation and I got to enjoy it for the first time in nearly two years. Trust me, if you’re ever at Joe’s Pub, order the Chocolate Martini. Both of our friends tried it as well (first timers) and I am pretty sure they enjoyed it. Smile

RachelIris

A Wicked Christmas Weekend

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We love so many people that we consider family. However, there are a few full families that are truly our extended family in every possible way. One of those families lives in Leesburg, VA. They (parents plus three children) were supposed to spend Thanksgiving with us in NYC. Unfortunately, life intervened and they had more urgent business to attend. Thankfully, we were able to reschedule to get them up for Christmas.

OurExtendedFamily

On Friday (when they arrived), after having a fantastic meal at Jackson Hole (probably still our favorite burger place in NYC, though there are so many spectacular ones), we did something unusual for us (and them as well). We split up completely!

AtJacksonHole

The parents took the 5-year-old girl to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. They reported that it was fantastic and the girl was mesmerized throughout!

Lois took the 13-year-old to see the new Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Neither was too enamored with the movie. If a 13-year-old boy doesn’t come back raving about such a movie, that’s all I need to know about it. Winking smile

I took the 11-year-old to see Blue Man Group. It was my third time, his first. It’s been quite a while since I last saw it, so I was quite excited to go again. I was really pleased to see that while the basic show was the same, they created a few new acts, replacing some others, while keeping some real crowd pleasers. In other words, even I got to enjoy some new things (I enjoyed the original material as well).

Needless to say, the 11-year-old was thrilled and had many mind-blowing guffaws during the show. The toilet paper part (a staple) will probably live with him forever. Smile

All seven of us met up at our favorite NYC restaurant for dinner: The Peking Duck House. The parents had been there twice before, but this was a first for all three kids. The meal was a huge success (it never isn’t, but I feel compelled to report on it nonetheless). Even though everyone professed to be stuffed to the gills, when offered ice cream for dessert, amazingly, everyone found an extra spot to stick it in. Smile

TheKidsAtThePekingDuckHouse

Not to slight any other activity, because the weekend was 100% incredible, but the main event (and hence the title) was all seven of us going to see Wicked on Saturday afternoon. It was our (Lois and my) 12th time. It was a first for everyone else. I will admit to being a bit nervous as to whether the kids would like it.

PreparingForWickedChristmasFinest

AtWicked

When we looked at our programs and saw that the two leads were the same ones we saw last time: Jackie Burns and Chandra Lee Schwartz, Lois and I knew that at a minimum, we would be enthralled. Thankfully, all seven of us loved the show.

WickedStandingOvation

To be honest, the two ladies were even better this time than last time (and they were amazing last time). The only weakness in either of their performances came in the the last big number, For Good, which they had trouble with the previous time as well. This time it was better. Each had trouble with their solo, but they came together beautifully for their harmonies (not so last time). Otherwise, their acting and singing were pretty much flawless.

There were two other changes in significant characters. Madame Morrible was played by someone we hadn’t seen before. Neither Lois nor I liked her performance. In fact, Lois thought her acting threw Jackie Burns off a time or two (I think she might be right). She wasn’t bad, and if it was my first time I probably wouldn’t have known better. Still, practically every other Madame Morrible we’ve seen was better, including the last one, who we particularly liked.

Fiyero was new to us as well. I think that last time we saw an understudy for this one. I found his acting not quite as loose as some of the others (including the last one), but his singing was good. In particular, he nailed the difficult duet with Elphaba in the woods (As Long As You’re Mine). So much so, that Jackie Burns nailed her part. I dinged her a bit on that number the last time out.

The Wizard (Tom McGowan) was as wonderful as he has been each time we’ve seen him.

So, a huge success (like I said, every activity was, except for possibly Mission Impossible).

TheTimeDragonClock

We walked to the theater, having lunch at Z Deli around the corner. Afterward we walked back and headed straight to The Capital Grille. I like a lot of steak houses, The Capital Grille among them. While I’ve been there many times, this might have been my best meal there. It would be hard to imagine a more pleasant way to spend time with family on Christmas Eve!

LoveIsInTheAirClassingUpTheJointSharingASecret

AtTheCapitalGrille

AfterDinner

After dinner I watched The Matrix with the boys (their first time). We paused a bunch of times early on to discuss the mind-bending plot. Once the real martial arts scenes kicked in, they were done discussing and were more intrigued by the acrobatics. Smile

We got to spend more quality time with everyone on Christmas morning, then they hit the road back to Leesburg. As sad as we were to see them go, our hearts were full from a literally perfect weekend with loved ones.

Rather than collapse, we continued the weekend festivities by meeting another good friend for lunch. I can’t speak for the ladies (each of whom ordered eggs), but my tuna melt was as good as it gets. So was our conversation, which we lingered over long after the meal was done.

P.S. The 11-year-old was enamored with my toy (my You Rock Guitar). He couldn’t put it down the entire weekend. Smile

YouRockGuitarYouRockGuitarContinued

Patryk Larney at Rockwood Music Hall

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I so thoroughly enjoyed my first Patryk Larney show (also at Rockwood Music Hall) that I was looking forward to seeing him again. Having an 11pm start time isn’t conducive, so I didn’t think we’d make it out last night. When our plans changed for the evening due to the set before Patryk (covered here), I was happy to push it an extra hour.

PatrykLarney

Before heading out, I saw these back-to-back tweets:

patryklarney Patryk Larney

Also tonight I will have a listening Holiday gift for everyone that comes. I open the show with an epic sound gift. for real. do not miss.

my opening guest will floor you. like nothing you have ever heard. A world touring musician. i can not mention here for safety reasons..ha!

What could it be, who could it be?

When his guest stepped on the stage, I recognized him. I’ve seen him exactly once before, almost two years ago to the day (12/18/2009). He was a special surprise guest that night too.

Kenny Muhammad is known as the human orchestra. One of his specialties is being a human beat box. You would swear that someone was playing a full drum kit when he’s working his magic. I can assure you that while Patryk had a drummer (we’ll get to him shortly), he didn’t touch the drums during both songs that Kenny performed.

KennyMuhammadKennyMuhammadPatrykLarney

Jessi Rae Waltz (of The Vanity Belles) was called up for the second song of the set and Patryk asked Kenny to stick around for that too, even though they hadn’t rehearsed it. The number is called Filler. It’s a fun/playful song about nothing. While some of the lyrics are amusing, the real reason to listen to it is Patryk and Jessi’s voices, which are fantastic. All of the musicians are wonderful, and Kenny just kills the beats (in particular at the 2:25 minute mark and again at the end).

JessiRaeWaltz

If you’re going to watch the video I strongly recommend using headphones that handle bass well. If you listen with them on, you can hear Kenny clearly throughout, but really pick up all the nuances when he’s center stage:

Patryk Larney, Kenny Muhammad and Jessi Rae Waltz perform Filler

Carrie Welling, the other half of The Vanity Belles joined for the next number (and Kenny Muhammad was done for the night), with Jessi staying on stage. Independent of Patryk, you simply have to check out The Vanity Belles, they’re extraordinary. Throw in Patryk’s wonderful voice and the sound is amazing.

PatrykLarneyTheVanityBelles

Carrie stayed and Jessi left. Patryk and Carrie sang City in the Fall. It was absolutely gorgeous. At the last show, Brian Collazo from Live Society sang it with Patryk. Their version was much more playful, showing off their soul chops. This was a more serious rendition of a beautiful song.

CarrieWelling

Patryk sings with passion (without ever screaming) and has a very wide vocal range:

PatrykLarneySinging

Update: I can’t believe I left this out. Patryk performed an incredible version of Auld Lang Syne, in an Irish accent. He finger picked it soulfully and you could have heard a pin drop. Very moving.

He had an incredible band supporting him, left-to-right on stage:

Ben Morgan on grand piano, vocals and melodica. We’ve seen Ben a number of times, including on TV supporting The Vanity Belles. He’s a superb piano player with an excellent voice. He also played MC twice, introducing Patryk and Kenny to kick off the show. He has a mild-mannered touch to his humor, which works very well.

BenMorgan

When he picked up the melodica, and blew into it directly (no hose), the place went nuts. So much so that he had to stand up and play it like he was a rockstar. Smile

BenMorganMelodica

Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris was wonderful. It’s hard to say whether his bass play, or his beard, was more impressive. You can judge for yourself how impressive his beard is, but you’ll have to listen really carefully to the video above to pick out his play.

ChrisAnderson

Kenny Shaw on drums. Another great performance from Kenny, though he did get to totally slack off for the first two numbers while the other Kenny was beat-boxing up a storm. I guess that made this Kenny that much fresher than the rest of the band when he finally joined in. Winking smile

KennyShaw

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Most of the people that were there for the set before were here for this one as well. In fact, most of them were sticking around for the next set too! We badly wanted to as well. Nightmare River Band was new to us, but we’re fans of Seth Faulk so we really wanted to check them out. Unfortunately, it was past midnight, and we were fading really fast. Lois caught a great shot of Carrie Welling and Seth Faulk as we ran out:

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We also ran into Jeff Litman. Mark your calendars (February 9th, 2012) to go see Jeff Litman’s CD Release show at The Bitter End. In fact, go earlier that evening to see Sam Teichman’s Leave a Lasting Mark benefit. This CD will be great and I’m sure the show will be too! We have a huge sad face, because we’re nearly sure we can’t be in the city that night. Sad smile

LindseyJeffLitman

Martin Rivas at Rockwood Music Hall

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We weren’t going to go out for any shows last night. In fact, we had dinner plans with friends. Then I saw this tweet:

martinrivas Martin Rivas

My last NYC show until Summer2012 tonite 10p at Rockwood2. XmasSongs? Requests? WhoKnows?! Not me. @patryklarney at 11 @nightmareriver at 12

Wait, 5+ months of no Martin Rivas? (see below for a clarification). That’s a no-can-do situation. I contacted our friends to find out what time we were meeting, so we could finish dinner in time to make the show. They needed to do it on the later side, so we asked them to reschedule!

Martin was solo (with two exceptions). He played a mix of new songs (off his new, upcoming CD, produced by Alex Liang Wong), old favorites, Christmas songs (an original and a cover) and one of his famous oldie covers as well. In other words, classic (and wonderful!) Martin!

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He mostly played the acoustic guitar, switching to the grand piano for one of the songs off the new CD, Brooklyn Accent (not necessarily the exact title). His guitar play was inspired, in particular when his first guest came up.

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Alex Berger joined Martin for one song. Alex played the grand piano while Martin sang and played guitar. That was one of the songs where Martin let loose on a few tasty leads on the guitar. Alex was of course masterful on the keyboards.

AlexBerger

When Martin sang one of his most famous songs, North, he called up another special guest (this was not planned, whereas I’m pretty sure Alex knew he’d be playing a song with Martin).

Bri Arden happened to be sitting in the audience, right near the stage. In fact, I knew she’d be there from this tweet:

BriArden Bri Arden

@martinrivas last NYC show until next summer!?!?!? I have a flight early the next morning but I think I have to be there for this!!!

True to her word, she made it! At Backscratch XV, Bri closed the show with North. She blew everyone away. Here’s one of the paragraphs I wrote about it:

Bri was awesome. The audience sang large swaths of the song with her, since we all know it so well. For the finale, Caleb Hawley and Patryk Larney came up and kept the chorus going while Bri sang in and around them. Stunning. Of course, Martin was triply moved. There was a long hug and private words exchanged between Martin and Bri on stage when she was done.

So, spotting Bri, Martin said that she simply had to come up to sing it with him. Thanks Martin, and thanks Bri, for giving us one last taste of your extraordinary voice before 2011 is a mere memory (as you see from the tweet above, she’s already gone!).

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Rockwood Music Hall was full of love for the entire set. So glad we changed our plans to be the tiniest part of it. Smile

KellySamTeichman

P.S. Clarification about no Martin Rivas shows until summer. After his set, I spoke to Martin for a minute. He told me that he was asked to appear at a charity event at Rockwood sometime in early 2012. Of course, for charity, he couldn’t say no. So, we might all get at least a peek of a song or two to tide us over…

Alex Liang Wong at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AlexLiangWongPiano

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

AlexLiangWongGuitar

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

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

WardWilliamsCello

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

WardWilliamsGuitar

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

ElliotJacobson

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

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

TonyMaceli

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

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

AlisaJames

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

RachelPlatten

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

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

ambeRRubarth

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

DavidFallo

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

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

Left-to-right, singing with Alex:

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

AriHestMartinRivas

IanHolljesElizabethHopkinsEricHolljes

TonyMaceliIanHolljesElizabethHopkinsEricHolljes

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

SetList

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

EricHolljesIanHolljesHadarGrantEmerson

MikeMcKeeHadarCarleyTanchonHadar

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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

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

AlexBergerPiano

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

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

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

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

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

WardWilliamsCello

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

AlexBergerAdamLevy

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

AriHest

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

AndrewNemr

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

AlexBergerGuitar

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

GregoryJones

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

JayStolarAlexBergerMartinRivasJayStolar

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

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DavidFalloSamTeichman