A Cappella

Caleb Hawley and Rachel Platten at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg

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I can think of at least five independent introductions to this post, all appropriate. That means I have an 80% chance of picking the wrong one. Oh well, here goes…

I’ve recently written that Rachel Platten is one of our current obsessions. We last saw her perform on January 23rd, 2010 at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. At that show, we saw Caleb Hawley join for some harmony with Martin Rivas (our first Caleb Hawley sighting). You can read about that night in this post. Our first house concert was September 5th, 2010. Since then we’ve attended two more, we like them a lot. We spend a considerable amount of our lives in Fredericksburg, VA.

When I noticed that on our next trip down to Fredericksburg, Caleb Hawley would be headlining a house concert there and Rachel Platten would be opening, I was equal parts dumbfounded and excited. This house concert was being produced by an amazing woman named Ruth (I can say that definitively, now that we’ve met her), who runs a regular series called House About Tonight (clever, right?). Smile

I was a bit surprised when she couldn’t confirm the venue right away, even though she immediately responded that she’d hold four spots for us. The reason was obvious once she explained. For those of you who don’t own a TV (or didn’t read my last post about Rachel), Caleb Hawley is a current contestant on American Idol. He blew away the judges (YouTube video now removed) (in particular, Steven Tyler) during the audition phase and got his ticket to Hollywood.

This was obviously not going to be an ordinary house concert. It wasn’t. After getting many more RSVP’s than usual, Ruth arranged for the show to be moved from a house to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg. Roughly 100 people attended a professionally run show. Ruth’s tireless energy, coupled with the incredible number of volunteers who handled the logistics of collecting the money (100% of the ticket price goes to the artists, yay!), laying out the amazing food (brought by the attendees!) and keeping everything on a reasonable schedule, made the evening better than most commercial venues deliver.

On to the show. Rachel opened, accompanied throughout by an amazing drummer (who we’ve seen many times), Craig Meyer. Rachel can handle herself perfectly, even playing alone on her keyboards (and singing, of course). With Craig, there is a noticeable uptick in keeping the beats fresh and interesting. Rachel also performs with a full band. Catch her any way you can when she’s in your town, you won’t regret it!

RachelPlattenSinging

I’m repeating what I’ve written about her before, but here’s the summary:

  • Superb songwriter, both lyrics and music
  • Lyrics can get lost in the fun, upbeat music, so listen carefully, there are too many gems to call out
  • Absolutely stunning voice
  • Excellent on the keyboards
  • 1000 megawatt smile that bathes the room
  • Bubbly, quick-witted personality that entertains the audience and keeps things lively

RachelPlattenKeyboards

Rachel called Caleb up to sing harmony and play guitar on two numbers. I’ll save my commentary on Caleb for just another minute.

Rachel shared some fantastic news with us. Just a couple of days earlier she announced a new record deal. Read all about it.

Craig played an even more amazing set than we’ve seen before, largely because both Rachel and Caleb (Craig played with both of them) turned it over to him more often than usual. Not only did he rise to the challenge, I was impressed at how nearly everyone in the crowd was totally into the drum solos.

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After singing with Rachel, Caleb stayed on the stage and Rachel stepped off (just to the side) and they transitioned from Rachel’s opening set to Caleb’s headlining set more naturally than I’ve seen before.

Let me repeat that even though we saw Caleb sing one verse (with a very large band) and saw his YouTube video on American Idol, we really knew nothing about him. That’s not entirely accurate. We have a lot of friends who we sit with at the various NYC clubs that we frequent. Many of them told me multiple times that I will be blown away by Caleb. Scheduling never worked for me to verify their outrageous claims, until last night.

Before I tell you why, let me assure you that my friends continue to impress me with their musical taste. I was indeed completely blown away by Caleb Hawley and can’t imagine missing another opportunity to see him whenever one presents itself!

No matter what order I list Caleb’s multitude of skills, you will (incorrectly) assume that some are better than others. One of the things that makes this kid (yes, he’s still a kid to us) so special is that everything he does is at a level that is rarified. Even fewer can put it all together. Caleb is the real deal!

Caleb has an incredible voice. If you don’t know him (like we didn’t), please don’t judge him by one a cappella performance with YouTube quality. Go see him, and/or buy one of his CD’s (we bought two last night!). I could definitely listen to him a cappella, live, for an entire set (especially his own songs).

CalebHawleySinging

Most solo singer/songwriters that accompany themselves on the guitar do so acceptably (I wanted to say passably). That is to say that if they weren’t singing, most couldn’t hold my interest for very long just playing the guitar. Caleb Hawley is a notable exception. He’s a wonderful guitar player. I could listen to an entire set of his guitar play without any vocals and leave completely satisfied.

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He mixes an incredible finger-picking style, with leads and rhythm in a manner that I don’t recall seeing in a long while (if ever).

So, he sings and he plays the guitar really well. Is that all? Ha, sorry, the list continues. He played the keyboards for one song, very well. I didn’t hear enough to rave like I did about the guitar, but he was good enough to warrant further listening!

CalebHawleyKeyboards

Songwriting? Check! He bookended the show with covers. He opened with the Ray Charles song that he performed on American Idol (Hallelujah I Love Her So), but this time, accompanied by the guitar and Craig on the drums. Much richer, gorgeous. He closed the encore (no way he could have left without an encore) with a Randy Newman number (Feels Like Home).

Not only did he nail Feels Like Home, but it had very special meaning to us. When our godson proposed to his soon-to-be-bride he made a very special DVD for her. One of the songs that he picked was Feels Like Home.

In between those covers, Caleb played a parade of wonderful original songs that made us laugh and tear up (sometimes in the same song). So yes, he’s an excellent songwriter. I’m listening to Seeing Colors this very second (while I type) and I’m reminded that Lois cried while he sang it last night.

OK, let’s recap: Great voice, great guitar player, very good on keyboards, great songwriter (picks good covers too). Is that it? Nope, one more thing (really two).

The one is stage presence. He had every single person eating out of his hands (like at a petting zoo). This included little kids and old folk like us. It’s not just rehearsed lines (or if it is, he’s even more masterful than I realized) but a natural persona that you bond with instantly as an audience member.

The two (really an extension of one) is that he’s hysterical. He could definitely be a stand-up comic (in terms of delivery/style).

CalebHawleyEntertaining

Craig accompanied Caleb on all but two numbers, wonderfully. Rachel joined Caleb to sing harmony on at least three numbers, one of which she also played the keyboards on.

They split the show into two sets, with Rachel opening each.

Two spontaneous things that turned into highlight reels. We had two guests with us, a mother and daughter. Craig called the daughter up to play the shakers during one song. She did a great job and Caleb actually interacted with her a bunch during the song and thanked her by name afterward.

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During the intermission, we bought two CD’s and a T-Shirt from Rachel and two CD’s from Caleb. Lois was wearing her Rachel T-Shirt already. Here are two shots of Craig with each of the girls in their Rachel shirts:

KPCraigMeyerRachelPlattenTShirtLoisCraigMeyerRachelPlattenTShirt

The other highlight occurred during the song Caleb called Cookies (the same song with the shakers, above). While he was performing the song (with Rachel singing too), Caleb noticed that a bunch of people were dancing at the back of the room. He made them all come up to the stage (Craig was instrumental in insisting they come forward as well). Once there, he taught them the Cookie Making Dance (my term). The audience hooted the entire time and they ended the song with a conga-like procession off the stage dancing the Cookie Making Dance.

Here’s a small sample of the dancing (Lois was too close to the stage to capture all the motion):

MakingCookiesDance

We were already big fans of Rachel and Craig. What a bonus to discover how enormously talented (and nice) Caleb Hawley is. We will now make it our business to see him as often as we can as well.

Thanks Ruth and the entire Unitarian Fellowship for putting on an extraordinary show and making us outsiders (Northerners at that!) feel so welcome!

RuthCalebHawleyRachelPlattenCraigMeyer

P.S. If you want to support this wonderful community, please make your next purchase from Amazon by clicking on the big Amazon ad on the front page of the Unitarian site. You’ll pay exactly what you would have otherwise and they’ll earn some affiliate commission. Smile

Morgan Holland, Chris Ayer and Matt Simons at Rockwood Music Hall

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Morgan Holland had her EP Release Party last night at Rockwood Music Hall. She invited most of the people who performed on the EP to play with her last night. Two of them opened for Morgan before joining her in the extended (two hour) set.

Chris Ayer was first up. We’ve only seen Chris perform once before (covered in this post) and we were excited to see him again last night. He’s excellent, all around.

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Chris has a fantastic voice, plays the guitar very well and writes interesting and entertaining songs. He has a charm on stage that is hard to resist. Oh, and the ladies can’t take their eyes off of him. They’ll show up even if they’re tone deaf. Winking smile

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Chris had a strange-looking tattoo on his right forearm, or at least that’s what I thought until I saw him consult it the second time. Then I realized it was his set list, written in sharpie. Winking smile Here it is the way it looked to us, then flipped and rotated, the way it looked to Chris. Smile

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After performing a number of songs solo, Chris invited Matt Simons to join him. Matt played the piano and sang harmony (beautifully).

To close out his set, Chris invited Morgan and Matt up to sing harmony with him on a gorgeous number. When the song was over, Chris and Morgan left the stage and Matt went into his solo set.

Lois and I participated in Matt Simons’ Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of his current EP. I am really pleased with the result and encourage all of you to check it out (and buy it, of course!).

Matt played on the grand piano and electric keyboards (standing!) and of course sang. As with Chris’ set, Matt invited Morgan and Chris up to join him on his last number.

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As much as I like Matt (and I have more praise to heap on him in my next post), I wasn’t as enamored with his set selection last night. Still, always a treat to see him!

There was a brief break before Morgan’s set, since there were more instruments and musicians that needed to be squeezed onto the stage. I’ll cover the additional musicians in a minute.

The night that we had previously seen Chris Ayer was the same night we discovered Matt Simons, who was accompanying Chris. Morgan Holland joined them for Chris’ last song and sang harmony. At the time I didn’t realize that she was also pursuing a solo career.

A few months ago I heard that Morgan released a new EP. It was available on Bandcamp (I linked Morgan’s name at the head of this post to her Bandcamp page). I really like Bandcamp in general and have bought a number of albums/songs from them. One of the best reasons is that most (every?) songs are available for full, free streaming. You pay only if you want to download. Even then, it’s often a pay-what-you-wish model (perhaps with a minimum).

It’s hard to complain when you can check something out (many times if you like) before wanting to own it, and more importantly, supporting the artist.

It took me exactly one listen to Morgan’s EP (Old New) to know I wanted to own it and support her. I bought it right away and have enjoyed it (multiple times) ever since.

Morgan opened the show with an a cappella number with Chris and Matt. I’m a sucker for any well-delivered a cappella, and this was extremely well delivered!

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Morgan gave a good performance of a number of the songs last night, but she also threw in a cover. She praised her band many times, rightfully so.

MorganHollandUkulele

Joining her on stage, left-to-right were:

Chris Ayer on guitar, ukulele and background vocals. Chris was excellent. His guitar play complemented Morgan’s play (she played guitar and ukulele on a few numbers) and his voice blends beautifully with hers.

ChrisAyerUkuleleMorganHollandGuitar

Matt Simons on grand piano, electronic keyboards and vocals. Ditto what I said about Chris above. Smile

Chris Anderson on upright bass. Chris is one of our favorite bassists. Of the many times we’ve seen him, this might be the first time we’ve seen him play upright, but I wouldn’t swear to it. He was excellent, of course!

ChrisAnderson

Stephen Chopek on drums. This was our first time seeing Stephen play. He was very good.

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I can’t tell you how mobbed Rockwood 1 was for this set, it was crazy. That would be impressive in and of itself. But, when you couple that with the fact that the show was up against none other than Sean Lennon (yes, that Lennon, John’s son) playing immediately next door at Rockwood 2, it was even more impressive.

I’m very glad we were among those that chose to check out and support the up-and-comers, though I’m sure that Sean delivered right next door!

P.S. Wanting to grab seats for Morgan’s set, we showed up 20 minutes early. We caught the last three songs of the previous set, a Jazz Quartet named The As-Is Ensemble headed by Michael Bellar. Michael played the grand piano and electronic keyboards (very well). I didn’t catch the other names (sorry!), but the upright bass player was excellent, as were both drummers. Very impressive!

MichaelBellarPlusBassistTheAsIsEnsembleDrummers

Girlyman and Red Molly at City Winery

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This show was announced over six months ago and the minute it was, I grabbed tickets. It was a long wait and it was well worth it. We even got to see Girlyman three weeks ago in Birmingham, which only enhanced our anticipation of last night’s show.

It is the rarest Girlyman show that we attend alone. We want to share our joy and grow their fan base whenever we get a chance. Last night was no exception. We had a party of seven, four of whom were experiencing Girlyman and Red Molly for the first time.

Girlyman opened with an energetic Paul Simon cover. This already set the tone for an unusual evening. I don’t think that in the nearly 20 times that we’ve seen them perform they’ve ever opened with a cover. Lois and I are sensitive to the opening song (of all bands that we love, not just Girlyman) because it often determines whether newcomers are leaning forward or backward for the rest of the show. So, opening song jitters overcome with flying colors (ours, not theirs), check! Smile

My next fear was locale-based. City Winery is beyond gorgeous. The food and wine are excellent. The sound is generally excellent too. But, the place is large and many people sit at the bar or off to the opposite side of the stage. Every other show I’ve been to at City Winery has had too many loud talkers during the sets (amazing sets at that!). It distracts from the show.

Thankfully, even though the place last night was packed, it was full of Girlyman and Red Molly fans. That meant whisper quiet during nearly every song, and raucous noise between them. Exactly as it should be! Venue enhances show rather than distracts, check! Smile

Any additional fears to overcome? Nope, good, only enjoyment left. One last note, earlier this week someone adjusted Lois’ camera in order to take pictures of some close up items. Lois didn’t readjust the settings, so nearly every photo she took last night was blurry. I’ll post a very few just to give you a sense of the layout. The camera is now back to normal.

Girlyman has such a large catalog to select from. They mix it up frequently, which is one of the reasons that seeing them often is invigorating. Of course, it means that something you’re desperately in the mood for on a given night might not be delivered. No worries, the entire catalog is fantastic.

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The tuning songs last night weren’t quite up to par (less rhymes, shorter, fewer), but the general banter and interaction among the band was superb. I had the warm fuzzies throughout the set.

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When they got to the request section, it was complete bedlam. It sounded like 200 of the 300+ people there were screaming at the same time, at the top of their lungs. I can always make out at least a dozen distinct titles being yelled at any show. I couldn’t make out a single title last night, because I think that over 50 songs were being yelled out.

The band didn’t seem to hear them either. When there was a break for a second, quite a number of people coordinated their screams for Everything’s Easy (the title track of their latest CD). The band seemed willing to play it, given that it was the only one they could be sure of.

But, in another clever, coordinated, premeditated move, a handful of people sitting right in front of the stage held up sheets of paper with the word Angel printed on them. This created a memorable set of events.

Angel is one of Doris’ new songs on the latest CD. It’s a beautiful song and I understand why this group came prepared to lobby for it. But, it’s one of the few songs in Girlyman’s catalog that they haven’t practiced together in a while. They were checking with each other on the stage whether any of them remembered it well enough to perform it. No one (including Doris) exuded confidence!

It was impressive that they love and connect with their fans well enough to at least try performing the song. There were flubbed chords and a few missed words as well, but it still sounded great and showed their courage to deliver what people wanted to hear rather than just what they could guarantee would be a flawless performance.

What makes it more impressive is the fact that Girlyman returned to offering live recordings of last night’s show after stopping the practice over a year ago (we cherish the many live shows that we purchased from them). As they noted on stage, anyone who wanted to listen to them butcher Angel over and over could now do so, by purchasing last night’s show. We do, so we did! Smile

Rather than leave it at that, they also performed Everything’s Easy, ensuring that one of the requests was performed as people expected it.

They introduced two new songs, one of which we heard in Birmingham (and fell in love with instantly). That one was The Person You Want (Me to Be) by Ty. The other, which they said was only the second time they’ve performed it, was Supernova by Nate. Supernova was a big hit at our table!

They closed the show with Postcards From Mexico in the same fashion that they did in Birmingham, but the size of the crowd at City Winery made it more of a spectacle (in the best sense of the word). They split the crowd in thirds, according to vocal range. We sang the chorus with them. It’s complicated, because the three parts have different words and different melodies (they don’t all start on the same beat either!). It sounded pretty darned good from where I was sitting. When I get my live CD in the mail, I’ll get a better sense of the full effect.

They performed a one-song encore, bringing Red Molly out to join them for Through to Sunrise. Cool! Five part harmony on one of our favorite songs (Abbie Gardner of Red Molly didn’t really join in the singing, but she played a mean Dobro solo that was double the normal length of the traditional Banjo solo that Doris plays). Bravo!

In total, they were on the stage for just under two hours, a super healthy (and welcome) set, considering there was a top-notch opening act as well. They correctly thanked City Winery for allowing them to do that!

We also count Red Molly among our favorite performers. Earlier this year, they decided to start touring more and that caused Carolann Solebello to leave the group (in July). Some groups can’t survive the transition to a new core member.

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In a not-so-small irony, the group selected Molly Venter to join them. (Get it? Red Molly now has an actual Molly in the band?)

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I’ll admit to being a bit nervous as to whether the character of Red Molly would remain intact, even if Molly Venter was a talented solo performer. That remained true even though someone I trust told me that she knew Molly well and that she was very much up to the task.

She was and is! Molly has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well and her voice blends beautifully with Laurie MacAllister and Abbie Gardner. She also brings her songwriter cred to the group, something that I think will be a big win for Red Molly (who performs more covers than most groups that we like this much).

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The first of the new songs is a lullaby written by Molly Venter which was amazing. I definitely need a recording of it, STAT! The second is a song she recorded on her own in 2008 that Red Molly has arranged for their trademarked three-part harmony. Gorgeous!

Thankfully, their 40 minute set included the ever-heavenly a capella cover of Susan Werner’s May I Suggest. If any song would be the test of Molly Venter fitting in, that would be it. Check (again). Smile

We arrived at 6pm to enjoy a terrific meal, including City Winery’s own wine. It’s exciting to sit at a table of vegetable lovers. We had two orders of the brussels spouts (yes, we all loved them!) and the cauliflower was heavenly too. Main dishes were all devoured as well.

We hung around after the show catching up with the band, getting their updated poster signed by all and mingling with friends who also attended the show. Another amazing evening in the books, more on the way (including tonight).

ambeR Rubarth and Ed Romanoff at a House Concert

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This was our second house concert on the upper west side of NYC. It’s a series called Music On 4 run by a wonderful couple who create a perfect atmosphere to enjoy live music.

amber Rubarth is no stranger to us or to readers of this blog. I’ve written about her and The Paper Raincoat (her project with the amazing Alex Wong) dozens of times. We’ve seen ambeR perform in a wide-variety of venues. Highline Ballroom (which seats 400+), down to NAU (a clothing store where she set up in the back). I’ve written about each one if you have the inclination to read for a few days.

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We’ve seen ambeR play solo, with a trio and with a large band (strings, oboes, the works!). She excels and adapts in all of those situations. There was no way ambeR could surprise me last night. Musically, that was true. Emotionally, it wasn’t. There was an intimacy (roughly 60 people attended, which is a sell-out at Music On 4) that was new.

ambeR introduced a few songs with backgrounds that I hadn’t heard before, even though I know the songs well. She chose a perfect set list for the setting, complemented by three requests from the audience that were all good choices. The entire evening (including the opener) was un-mic’ed (both vocals and acoustic guitars). She finger-picked beautifully and her voice was the perfect volume for the room.

What makes ambeR so special? She’s an incredible songwriter. Don’t take my word for it. She just won the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest for 2010! (If you’re reading this a year from now, the link might no longer be highlighting ambeR.) Still not convinced? She co-wrote Washing Day with Adam Levy. It too won an award:

Amber Rubarth’s song Washing Day (co-written with Adam Levy) won 1st Place in the 2006 International Songwriting Competition in the ‘Lyrics only’ category, judged by Tom Waits, Brian Wilson and Robert Smith

ambeR writes about universal experiences in a way that captures the deepest feelings succinctly and honestly. Along the way, there is enough disarming humor (both outright funny and bittersweet introspection) to keep the mood just right. Her imagery is vivid and insightful.

She’s off for a European tour today. I miss her already! Smile

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Ed Romanoff opened for ambeR. He’s joining her on the European tour as well. We’ve seen Ed a few times before and enjoyed his sets. Last night was no exception, but I don’t feel that he’s as suited to an un-mic’ed house concert as ambeR is. For a big guy, Ed tends to sing reasonably softly. When he’s mic’ed correctly, that’s fine. When he isn’t, at times his guitar overwhelms his voice.

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Even so, he was a good choice to open for ambeR. He is a very good story-teller (this was particularly true when we last saw him at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2) so he had the audience totally warmed up by the time his set was done.

Ed and ambeR closed the show with a duet, performing Hold On by Tom Waits.

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As with many shows, not everything always goes according to plan. Ed and ambeR had a bit of trouble getting there, arriving roughly 20 minutes after they were supposed to appear. Unlike a commercial venue, house concerts can deal with this situation more creatively.

One member of the audience came up to the stage area (not raised) and led everyone in singing the first verse of Amazing Grace! Then another member came up and sang a song he wrote. A third member stood up and sang another song (not written by her) right from her seat. All were a cappella since there were no instruments in the apartment. Just as the third song was finished, ambeR and Ed walked in. A very warm experience shared by and between audience members only.

Another night of great music shared with a wonderful group of people!

Antje Duvekot and Anne Heaton at House Concert

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Last night we attended our second ever house concert. I can easily see this becoming a habit. I started this blog 3.5 years ago with one goal in mind, document our lives so that as our memory fades (inevitable) we will have a permanent record to reflect back on.

A completely unexpected side-benefit has been the incredible people that we’ve met (both virtually and IRL: in real life) as a result of this endeavor and the heavy emphasis on blogging about musical events.

One person who I met through this blog (IRL, before he ever commented on the blog!) alerted me to someone who runs regular house concerts on the upper west side in NYC, telling me specifically about last night’s show. The host was kind enough to reserve two spots for Lois and me.

Antje Duvekot opened the show. We weren’t familiar with most of her work, but the very first time we saw the Bank of America commercial featuring Merry Go Round (written by Antje), we fell in love with the song. I was excited to hear more of her music live for my first impression. I’m now officially a big fan of Antje (personally) and her music.

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Six weeks ago, Antje took a serious tumble off her bike. She broke her hand and shouldn’t have been playing guitar yet. She joked that none of us should be telling her hand surgeon that she was disobeying orders. Here’s hoping that my blog isn’t popular enough to be read by him/her. 😉

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Even with a cast on, her guitar playing was beautiful. Her left pinkie was effectively immobilized (she didn’t use it all in the first set and barely did in the second). She finger-picks most of the songs and I look forward to seeing her again when she can use all of her fingers (though I wasn’t disappointed in the least in her delivery last night!).

Antje has a broad vocal range. For me, in all of my two experiences of a house concert, I don’t think you can properly judge a singer’s voice at the extremes in this kind of setting. For some, to hit the high notes, they need to belt it out. It’s obvious that they don’t want to overwhelm the small, close-in crowd, so they clearly pull back. I don’t know whether Antje was pulling back, or whether that’s how she normally sings the high notes.

In general, there is a smokey quality to her vocals.

She’s mostly hard-core folk (one of my favorite genre’s for over 40 years!) and she’s extremely good at it in every respect. She also did a Jason Mraz cover and her own Merry Go Round isn’t really folk either. She closed her part of the show with Merry Go Round. So great to see that live after being a fan of the song from the minute it was released.

Antje’s personality comes across wonderfully. Sweet, self-effacing, interesting, funny, warm (and probably a few other nice adjectives). She opened with an a capella number (which gave her an opportunity to showcase her cast). In my opinion it was a difficult and dangerous thing to do in such an intimate environment. She won me (and I’m guessing nearly everyone) over within the first verse!

Anne Heaton was the other headliner. We had not heard of her, but after mentioning her name to a few musician friends, all we heard were raves! Anne sings wonderfully and plays the keyboards really well. Her style is mostly Jazz so the contrast between Antje and Anne was big.

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Not to be outdone by Antje’s obvious handicap, Anne topped her, by showing up 8.5 months pregnant! 😉

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Her (understandable) obvious discomfort was made even clearer when she shared a huge scare that she underwent just two days earlier. In addition, she told us that the baby was pressing on her lungs. Yikes!

With all that, her vocal control and range were superb. I like Jazz in general (though I lean toward the instrumental smooth jazz variety), so I enjoyed her numbers, but it’s not typically the kind of stuff that makes my heart flutter.

She played a whimsical number that she wrote as a bridal toast (she was maid of honor) for her childhood friend. I loved every second of it (delivery, lyrics, style). The crowd loved it too, as many laughed throughout the song.

During the first of two sets, Antje played the first six songs (roughly) and Anne played the next six. But, they joined each other on at least four songs to harmonize (they do a lovely job, since they also perform together as part of Winterbloom). For the second set, they both remained on stage (in front of us) throughout, alternating songs, again harmonizing frequently.

Anne also has a wonderful stage presence. Obviously, the topics last night trended more around her current condition, but it’s clear that she can handle any audience in any situation.

I would guess that there were roughly 50 people in attendance. The hosts ran the evening as well as I could have hoped. There was beer/wine/cheese/cold cuts/soft drinks/fruit/etc., spread out in multiple spots so there were no long lines anywhere. They are delightful people who have found an incredible way to share their love of music while getting to experience it themselves in the best possible way!

I was sorry to run out the minute the show was over, but we were heading straight to the house and wanted to get on the road.

The Paper Raincoat at Mercury Lounge

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Last night was our second time at Mercury Lounge. We went to see the same group that brought us there the first time, The Paper Raincoat.

No matter how many times we see the same groups, each show has it’s own character, making it worth coming out for reasons other than simply supporting great talent (though that alone is a worthy enough reason!).

The last few times that we saw The Paper Raincoat (TPR), they had a violin, viola and bass accompanying them. Last night, they were back to the original configuration that we originally saw them in (way back in April 2009), Alex Wong, ambeR Rubarth and a drummer (last night it was Kevin Rice, but that first time was Adam Christgau).

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We love the strings (Melissa Tong and David Fallo) and Tony Maceli on the bass. I look forward to a TPR show with them all as soon as possible, but still, there was a tingle to get back to the core sound that we originally fell in love with.

TPR was one of four bands on the bill (third in the lineup), so their set was slightly shorter than usual (around 40 minutes). They had an excellent set selection so we didn’t feel let down by the length.

SetList

At least 1/2 of the very large audience was there to see the headliner, The Do, so they were experiencing TPR for the first time. From our center vantage point, they liked TPR plenty.

Kevin Rice was extraordinary (not that he’s ever less than amazing). On Sympathetic Vibrations, Alex had a particularly long introduction (which was cool in itself) and Kevin was wailing a rock-steady beat throughout. My arms hurt just watching him, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of him either.

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That was hardly the extent of his incredible drumming. In addition, they played It All Depends, where they often end it with Alex, Kevin and ambeR all drumming at the same time (heavenly). Last night, Alex spotted Danny Molad in the audience. He’s the drummer for Elizabeth and the Catapult. Alex coaxed Danny onto the stage, so It All Depends ended with four people sharing one drum set. Hazzah!

AlexWongDannyMolad FourPeopleDrumming

Alex and ambeR also played Right Angles. We’ve seen them play it before, with both on a grand piano at the same time, but it was tucked away in the corner of Rockwood, so you only see them sitting together. Last night they played it on the electric keyboard, with their hands flying up and down the keys simultaneously, right in front of us. Awesome!

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So, how did I know that 1/2 the audience was new to TPR? They closed with their signature a cappella Rewind. When they start the awesome cross-hand-clapping, 1/2 the audience laughed (gleefully). That happens to everyone the first time they see TPR do it. After that, you anxiously look forward it, but don’t laugh out loud. 🙂

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We only stayed for 1.5 songs of The Do. Not my taste (plus it was late for us). But, to give them their proper due, as crowded as it was for TPR, I can’t believe how many more people jammed into Mercury Lounge for The Do. They have a huge, loyal and adoring set of fans. I’m sure those people thought we were crazy for leaving, but they had to be happy to have the extra space. 😉

Now that I’ve been to Mercury Lounge twice, I can definitively say I’m not a fan (I’ll go again without hesitation, but I won’t look forward to the venue part of the evening). Standing is only one negative for us. The bigger one is the sound system and engineering there (only two data points, I know) is way below the quality we’re used to at over a dozen other venues. C’est la vie…

Delta Rae at Arlene’s Grocery

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We weren’t supposed to be back in NYC until tomorrow (Thursday). Friends of ours from Thailand were in the states and are leaving tonight. We decided to come home early and have lunch with them today to see them off (that didn’t work out in the end!).

Once we committed to that, we left even earlier (yesterday morning), so that we could be back in NYC in time to catch Delta Rae at Arlene’s Grocery.

We’ve seen Delta Rae once before, at Rockwood Music Hall and I covered that evening in this post. I mentioned that I would love to hear them play with a band. Ask and ye shall receive. Delta Rae played at Rockwood again this past Saturday, another acoustic set, but at Arlene’s Grocery, the set was billed as full band.

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We picked a good day to come back early. As we pulled in front of our building, the thermometer in the car read 105 degrees:

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Delta Rae performed an excellent set last night. It was extremely well-received by the audience (including us). Having a full band meant adding a drum set and electric bass. That was enough to make the difference I was interested in hearing, but they could also stand a good lead electric guitar, and possibly even a fiddle or mandolin on a few numbers.

The four members of Delta Rae have wonderful voices individually, that blend in magical ways collectively. Given the power and emotion that they produce while singing, it’s a very good thing that each can hold their own singing lead, as it gives a slight rest to the others when they pass the proverbial baton around from song to song.

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Mike McKee on drums (no good individual link for him, sorry). He was really good on every song, I thoroughly enjoyed his play! Photo isn’t good either.

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Mark McKee on electric bass. Very solid throughout. As much as I really liked the drums, the bass is what really created the bigger sound (big bottom) for Delta Rae, to differentiate from their acoustic set.

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While I liked the bigger sound, there’s always a tradeoff. They play a song (Morning Comes) where the ladies clap between lines in a way that adds a very nice touch to the song. They did it last night, but you couldn’t hear the clapping at all over the bass and drums. Of course, I could see them, and fill in the sound in my mind, but it wasn’t the same thing.

We still got a taste of the acoustic side with their Gospel number, Bottom of the River, delivered largely a cappella (the drummer did enhance their normal foot-stomping). They also did the Fleetwood Mac cover The Chain with Ian on acoustic guitar. That’s the only song where the McKee boys left the stage. Here’s a YouTube version of the song performed in Eric’s bathroom! 🙂

They closed the show with a song that they pitched to Kelly Clarkson. She liked it but it didn’t fit her current album so they’re free to use it themselves again. That said, when we left, Lois told me that Lady Antebellum would be nuts not to want to cut that song immediately. So, if you’re listening Hillary Scott, Lois thinks you would fall in love with this song. Grab it while you can, before Delta Rae scores with it directly!

We support the artists we like. We already have two copies of their EP (get it!) so Lois bought a Delta Rae T-Shirt after the show.

Thanks for coming back to NYC a second time in one week (they played in MD in between!), and bringing along the McKee brothers to let me experience the full band sound so quickly.

Already looking forward to our next Delta Rae encounter!

We chatted briefly with Eric and Ian before the show and I noticed Ian was carrying around a tired-looking set list. Here’s a photo of it, though it was from a previous show and they tweaked the set last night from this one:

SetList

ElizabethHopkinsIanHolljesBrittanyHolljes EricHolljes

The Persuasions at BB King

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Lois and I love a cappella. We love harmony in all forms and it doesn’t get purer than a cappella. When we each saw that The Persuasions were performing at BB King (we both get the weekly email newsletter) we were interested in going (we’ve never seen them).

A friend of ours was vacationing up the East Coast, and told us that he would likely have some time to hang with us when he spent a couple of days in NYC. He called Wednesday night and we asked him whether he would be interested in seeing The Persuasions. Indeed he was.

The group was formed in 1962 and released their first studio album in 1970. Two of the original members are still performing with the group! One of them is Jimmy Hayes, who sings the deep bass parts. He’s absolutely amazing. Both Lois and I couldn’t wait to praise him to each other when we hit the street.

When all five of them sing together, the sound is incredibly rich, whether they are singing the words together (normal harmony), or whether some or all of them are mimicking instruments or doo wop sounds.

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Going for the music alone would be worth it. Fortunately, that’s not the only reason to go, though we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

I would guess that the majority of the audience were giant The Persuasions fans, having seen them perform before (likely many times for a good proportion of the crowd). Aside from being adoring fans (in the best sense), they knew the individual performers, and the group knew many audience members as well.

The Persuasions don’t just perform, they entertain! On at least a third of the numbers one of the members of the group ventures into the audience (usually the other original member, “Sweet” Joe Russell, but both Raymond Sanders and Jayotis Washington did as well). The song becomes highly interactive at that point, with great unpredictability.

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Dave Revels sang slightly more leads than the rest and did a wonderful job throughout the set.

At times, Joe (or the others) will simply sing to a member of the audience (often acting out the lyrics). Just as often, they will hand the microphone to someone and get them to sing (often the lead!). No one was bad, but a few were pretty darn good, with two people singing like real professionals!

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In one awkward moment (awkward for me, because I’m a complete geek!), Joe was singing to a woman. They each had an arm around the other. The woman was in heaven, and she handed her iPhone to her husband and asked him to take a photo. Even though Joe held the pose while he sang to the woman for nearly two minutes (that’s an eternity folks!), the husband couldn’t figure out how to snap a photo on the iPhone. He was aiming the LCD screen at them, and was nearly as frustrated as his wife. He did not get the photo. 🙁

The Persuasions perform a wide variety of music. Hearing oldies from my childhood brought rushes of wonderful memories back in an instant. Seeing the beaming faces of the other audience members (all ages!) turned those memories into a shared experience, making it more special than simply tuning into an oldies radio station.

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Here’s the set list, so you can get a sense of the breadth and see how many of your old favorites are there:

SetList

The one song you won’t see on there is what they performed during the encore (yes, they were forced to come back out for an encore), In the Still of the Night. Saying that they performed it is a bit of a misnomer. They actually participated in the performance, which was dominated by the audience.

They invited anyone in the audience who wanted to sing it with them on stage to come on up. Amazingly, roughly 20 people went up.

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Jayotis Washington came into the crowd and asked people whether they knew the song (the intro was already being doo wop’ed on stage), and I was one of the people he stopped in front of!

I said no (even though I knew it well), because I had no intention of singing into the microphone. The guy at the table next to me (a huge fan and friend of the band) accepted, and sang the lead for a good part of the song. He was incredible (one of the two I mentioned above). The entire song was quite a spectacle (in the best sense of the word).

After it was over, Lois went on stage to get the set list. When I looked up, she was hugging each member of The Persuasions. I looked away for a second, then looked back. The stage was empty. Lois disappeared behind the stage with them. I told our friend that I would likely be forced to wait 24 hours before calling her in as a missing person. 😉

She came back out without the set list itself, but with the photo (shown above), and some more memories. 🙂

On to the food. BB King is comfort food and it’s always really good. Last March (2009) we were there for a Jerry Jeff Walker show, and our god-son-in-law ordered the Mac & Cheese. It’s so rich he couldn’t finish it and the rest of us all dug in and were blown away. Last night I ordered it for myself for the first time. Just as good. Thanks Chris, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know what I was missing! 🙂

When we were watching the coming attractions our friend told us that we shouldn’t miss The Toasters, who will be at BB King on October 29th. Here’s hoping he can make it back to NYC to join us for that show as well!

HadarChris

Delta Rae at Rockwood Music Hall

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The first time I heard the name Delta Rae was on April 2nd 2010, in an email from a good friend. He forwarded a note from a friend of his (who I’ve never met). Ever since then, I’ve formed an email friendship with our mutual friend and he’s been promoting Delta Rae to me.

I don’t begrudge him one bit, he’s the very proud uncle of 3/4’s of the group, the Holljes siblings, Ian, Eric and Brittany. Their childhood friend, Elizabeth Hopkins rounds out this extremely talented band.

I’ll end with a back story as to how we finally got to see them last night, but first, on to the show!

Delta Rae is two guys and two girls. All four sing really well individually, but in any combination (two, three or four of them) the magic comes to life.

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BrittanyHolljes ElizabethHopkins

The women, Brittany Holljes and Elizabeth Hopkins sing and on occasion play a tambourine and shaker. Ian Holljes sings and plays the guitar (mostly rhythm). Eric Holljes sings, plays the piano and the guitar.

Instrumentally, Eric carries the day on the piano, he’s very good. The guitars are mostly background, with the exception of one song that was finger-picked by Eric.

Delta Rae writes their own songs. All of the ones they performed last night were excellent. They write in a variety of genres (they list themselves as pop/soul/folk, I’d add country as well). They also performed a wonderful cover of Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac (one of their big influences).

They performed a gospel song a cappella with Brittany singing the lead. Breathtaking.

BrittanyHolljesSinging

During one number, Elizabeth was hitting the tambourine so hard with the shaker, that one of the little cymbals came flying off. A few seconds later, a second one flew off. Thankfully, the song ended before more of them had a chance to escape. 😉

When all four sing together (not often enough for my taste!), they remind me of One Flew South, Love and Theft, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, all at their best!

What separates Delta Rae from the above is the incredible bands (musicians) that back the others, giving them a much richer sound. Clearly, Delta Rae can’t afford a bunch of professional musicians to back them, but I’m betting that day is not far away and they will break out in a big way.

We bought two copies of their new EP (buy it, you won’t be disappointed!) and I listened to it this morning. It’s gorgeous and is produced well, with drums, bass and even a cello (viola, etc) on one number. It gives a hint of what they can sound like on a big stage with a full band.

If you still need your arm twisted, go listen to their MySpace page, but then, after you like it, support them and buy the EP!

Very impressively, Rockwood was packed with very enthusiastic fans. This is nice to see for a band that is based in NC. When their set was over, the crowd was demonstrably upset, wanting to hear more. Eric announced something that was cool and highly unusual (and potentially fraught with a number of problems).

He told us that they would do a one-song acoustic encore outside, while the next act was setting up. Nearly every person rushed outside, and indeed, they played a stunning number with the boys on guitar and all four singing. There was quite a crowd listening to them.

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When the song was over, Eric dealt with the biggest potential problem, siphoning off the next act’s audience. He implored people to go right back in and listen to people he described as awesome. Nicely done, and I hope enough people took his advice. We were so wiped that we weren’t going to stay either way.

A more minor problem could have been the embarrassment of only a handful of people going out to hear them. Thankfully, they didn’t have that problem! 🙂

Delta Rae actively suffers for their art. They drove from NC to NY yesterday, just to play a one hour set. After playing the outdoor encore, they hit the road for an 11-hour drive back to Asheville, NC, where they are opening for Hanson tonight. That’s dedication, and that’s one of the things it takes to make it in the crazy music business. Bravo!

Jason Adamo performed the set before Delta Rae, another NC-based band. We listened to their MySpace page earlier in the day, and liked it a lot, and decided to catch Jason and his band as well.

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Unfortunately, while they are all talented, the live performance didn’t work for me the way it did recorded. It’s possible that it was entirely due to bad sound levels, but I’m not sure. The entire band was loud (but distinguishable). That caused Jason to literally yell into the microphone, and most of his words still couldn’t be made out.

JasonAdamoSinging

On a few songs, the intro was much softer and Jason didn’t have to yell. It was clear he has a very nice voice. Each of the band members was good in their own right, so I’ll give them each a quick shout out:

Doug Casteen on the electric guitar (and a drop of harmony). Doug was excellent on the guitar on every song, taking some really nice leads. He co-wrote many of the songs that the band performed last night.

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Fabio Consani on the harmonica, a bit of acoustic guitar (and a drop of harmony). Fabio was very good on the harmonica.

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John Briggs on electric bass and harmony. John was solid on the bass throughout. He co-wrote at least one song, and produces some of the Jason Adamo band songs.

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Shedrick Williams on drums. Shedrick was solid as well. On two occasions he took short but very nice solos. The second was during their last number and helped end the set on a very high note with tons of energy. Shedrick is also a master of flipping and spinning his sticks, without missing a beat during the song. He’s an understated but excellent showman. Here’s a YouTube video of him playing along to a soundtrack.

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Finally, our back story. 😉

We have friends who live in Durham (where Delta Rae are based!). They have a 13-month-old whom I haven’t met yet, though Lois did in December. They are here in NY for the weekend. A few months ago, we set Friday night to have dinner together. A few weeks later, City Winery announced a benefit for the Gulf Coast with a few of our favorite performers. We were disappointed that we would miss the show, but we happily choose good friends over an evening of music out.

Last week our friends called to ask whether we could move dinner to Thursday. We immediately said sure, and purchased tickets for Friday night. The music gods were looking out for us. 🙂

Then, a day or two later, I got an announcement that Delta Rae would be playing at Rockwood on Thursday (last night), the same night we just agreed to have dinner with our friends. Once again, we would have to miss Delta Rae. It seemed like the musical gods giveth, and then taketh away. 🙁

Oh me of little faith… Our friends got into town at 4:30pm and we hung out with them until 7pm, when they had to leave for a number of reasons. We had a lovely visit with them and still had plenty of time to catch Jason Adamo at 8pm and Delta Rae at 9pm. Thanks musical gods for setting everything straight again! 🙂

Jay Nash, Joey Ryan and Chris Seefried

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Joey Ryan in NYC the same night that we are? No need to wonder what we had planned. 🙂

Joey just completed a UK/Europe tour with Jay Nash. After joining a lot of our favorite artists for a show (way) upstate in NY over the 4th of July weekend, they headed down to Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 to spread some of the love to us sweltering city dwellers (OK, the heat actually broke yesterday, but perhaps that was Joey and Jay’s doing as well!). 😉

There was another musician on the bill last night, Chris Seefried. All three played at various times with each other, but technically, they played three separate sets (with nearly zero time between them, since each had their instruments already on the stage). I’ll cover them in reverse order (as I typically do).

Jay Nash was ostensibly the headliner, playing last. This was our first time seeing Jay. We’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while, since he is beloved by many of the people that we love.

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Not only weren’t we disappointed, we feel cheated that the people we love didn’t kidnap us and force us to go see Jay sooner. Wow!

I just followed him on Twitter (@Jay_nash) so that I would never miss an announcement of a future show. He’s also moving (or just moved?) back to the East Coast (after seven years in LA) so we should have more opportunities to fulfill our new wish.

Jay is an exceptional guitar player, both acoustic and electric. He has a powerful voice that is also incredibly clear. He writes great songs and delivers them with a passion and energy that is infectious.

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He plays a variety of styles. Last night included the softest (gorgeous) finger-picked number, a fantastic Country tune, and full-on Rock ‘N Roll (in the best tradition). He can carry the show alone (vocally and instrumentally), but he also sings amazing harmony during his set, and backing the other two guys.

Jay has excellent stage presence, keeping us all amused and interested during the tunings and shuffling around on the stage.

All three were joined by a variety of band members and special guests. I would normally mention the band members here, as part of Jay’s set, but since most played with all three performers, I’ll save my comments about each until after I cover Joey and Chris as well.

The crowd wouldn’t let Jay off the stage, so the show ran longer than planned. Yay! 🙂

Joey Ryan started his set off solo, and as usual, just crushed it. After that he was joined by a combination of players (to be covered later). What never ceases to amaze me about Joey is his ability to delicately hit very high notes, but deliver such incredible power in the middle range.

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Of course, he writes great songs, and delivers them well when playing solo, or with the full band pumping up the volume supporting him.

Joey also has a great stage presence, but it’s extremely different than both Jay and Chris. Joey is both completely self-deprecating (100% of the time) and soft-spoken (you have to strain to hear his cracks, but man, it’s totally worth it, as the cracks are as clever as his lyrics).

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After a couple of songs, Joey asked the crowd for requests. Lois asked for Broken Headlights. Joey ignored her and played California (beautifully). One song later, we found out why he didn’t consider Broken Headlights. He invited the one-and-only Vienna Teng on stage to join him (and the full band) in playing (and singing) Broken Headlights. It was awesome. Lois was happy. 🙂

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Joey asked Vienna to play on the next song even though she didn’t know it. While the others were tuning and setting up, Joey played one verse (no vocals) and the chorus for Vienna, so she would be prepared. Vienna needed nothing else, as her piano playing on the song was outstanding, complementing the mind-blowing leads that Jay Nash played on the electric guitar.

Kicking off the show (six minutes early) was Chris Seefried. We’ve never seen Chris before (nor heard of him). He was excellent in every respect (vocally, on acoustic and electric guitar and on the piano supporting Jay Nash). He also has a warmth (with strength) on stage.

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He started off the show with Rich Pagano singing harmony and playing a drumstick that had a built-in cymbal/tambourine for the percussion. Immediately thereafter, both Joey and Jay joined him and people kept coming and going from the stage throughout his set.

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At one point he introduced a song saying that it would start out a cappella and that we might all be asked to join in at the end of the song (we weren’t). The three part a cappella harmony was chill-inducing (Joey/Jay/Chris). But, there were a few people chatting loudly toward the back of the room.

Few things annoy me more than people who are so rude, in particular during a super soft number. There are hundreds of bars/restaurants/lounges in NYC where you can go to have a drink and conversation, and perhaps even hear background music. If you’re going to a show, in particular one where people are buying tickets in advance, don’t come if you want to talk.

Chris handled it perfectly (something 99.9% of all artists simply ignore, though it has to annoy them nearly as much as it annoys me!). He stopped the song and said: “If you want to talk, please try to do it in the key of A”. Thankfully, they took the hint and stopped. He restarted the song, and it was mesmerizing start-to-finish.

One interesting fact was that both Jay and Chris allowed the other to shine on the guitar during their respective sets. When Chris was up he played well, but Jay took the majority of the leads. During Jay’s set, Chris played the electric guitar (which he didn’t during his own set), and took some incredible leads, really showing off his skills.

Chris also played piano during one of Jay’s songs, and Jay played piano during one of Chris’. Nicely done, highlighting the other during your own set!

ChrisSeefriedPiano JayNashPiano

On to the band:

Rich Pagano (mentioned above) sang with Chris, and played the drums (and the aforementioned percussion). I liked his harmony. I would have enjoyed it more if he had been a bit more forceful with it. He was very respectful of not wanting to step on Chris’ vocals, but he needn’t have worried, Chris has a powerful voice.

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Adam Christgau played the drums on various numbers with all three performers. If you’ve never read any of my posts, then I need to tell you that we love everything about Adam, as a drummer and as a person. We discovered the great Ian Axel through him and would be grateful to Adam if that was all he ever delivered to us.

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Matt Delvecchio on electric bass. He played a bit with Chris, a lot with Joey, and throughout all of Jay’s set. Very solid on the bass. Toward the end of Jay’s set, he gave Matt a bass lead (Jay continued to play) and it was extremely tasty. Matt also sang harmony on a few songs (mostly Jay, but also a bit with Joey). He did an excellent job, both when it was just him and Jay, and when he was one of a four or five part harmony.

MattDelvecchio

Jano Rix played drums throughout Jay’s set and a bit of percussion on Joey’s. He was tight and solid throughout. The bio leads me to believe he’s much more awesome than he let on last night, though he didn’t miss a beat nor disappoint in any way.

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Here are two typical fancy set lists:

FancySetlists

In addition to a perfect night of music we had the pleasure of bumping into other friends and musicians during and after the show. In fact, we typically run out immediately after saying goodnight, so us old folks can hit the sack, but we lingered for quite a while chatting on Allen Street and having a blast.

AlexWong CandaceChien

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