A Cappella

Girlyman at Southern Cafe

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Another night, another Girlyman concert. This one was in Charlottesville, at the relatively new The Southern Cafe. This used to be Gravity Lounge. It changed hands and was gutted on the inside.

Last night was the final show in the current East Coast tour for Girlyman. I can only imagine how exhausted they were. Thankfully, none of that was projected on the audience, as they performed with incredible energy over two sets.

All of the praise I heaped on them for the show the previous night applied last night. They varied the set list a lot, with at least half of the songs swapped from the night before. Their banter was almost 100% fresh. One of the reasons that this is almost always true for Girlyman is that they feed off the crowd’s reactions. They might start with a seed that they have in mind, or have used in a previous show, but each audience will take them in a completely different direction.

DorisMuramatsu

There were more, and longer tuning songs last night. Not because Ty and Doris had more trouble tuning, but because they got stuck (in the best sense) on a particular theme/interplay and drove a truck through it at every opportunity.

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Girlyman audiences are among the best, at every venue, on a consistent basis. They are true fans who make unreal noise between songs, and are reverently quiet during songs. That’s all you can hope for.

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They played a 45-minute set and took a break to sign merch and mingle with the audience (exactly like they did the night before at Jammin’ Java). They returned for a 70-minute set including a three song encore.

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The first song in the encore was the Girlyman Benediction. It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen them do it live, and it was fantastic (as it always is). In addition to their normal antics during the song (e.g., Doris does the belly-rubbing and head-patting motions at one point), adding JJ Jones to the mix (the newest Girlyman) was hysterical. She was balancing drumsticks and water bottles, making it very hard to look anywhere else to see what the rest of them were doing. 🙂

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Next they played the other encore favorite, Son of a Preacher Man, which has also been a while since we’ve seen it. They closed the show with the amazing a cappella number, Up to the Sea (from the new CD) like they did the night before.

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After the show Nate signed their latest CD for our friends. Lois bought one of their Everything’s Easy T-Shirts (for me, since they were out of her size).

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Opening the show was Andy Moore. We missed the beginning of Andy’s set (my rant about that will come in a minute) but caught her last two numbers. She has a beautiful voice and accompanies herself well on an acoustic guitar. Very moving lyrics.

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Lois made up for our guilt of missing her entire set by buying two of her CDs, so we now have a chance to get to know her music better. We also spend a lot of time in Richmond, where she’s based, so we might get to catch one of her shows there.

The Southern Cafe is still relatively new, so it’s important to cut them some slack while they get their sea legs. On the other hand, I’ll still rant a bit in the hopes of sparing someone else what happened to us, and encouraging The Southern to get it together a bit more quickly than they seem to be.

The show was listed for 8pm, with doors opening at 7pm. We wrote in advance because the website is one of the things that hasn’t quite gotten fleshed out yet. They wrote back saying that the opening act would come on at 8pm, with Girlyman hitting the stage at around 8:30pm.

We arrived at 6:20pm, and our guests arrived at 6:30, exactly when we asked them to. The doors to the cafe were already open (very welcome, since it was drizzling outside). We tried multiple times to order dinner, and each time were politely told that they wouldn’t be taking orders until roughly 7pm (fine, that’s when the doors were officially supposed to open).

They did indeed take our order at 7pm. Even though it’s traditional southern style comfort food (I had an amazing pulled pork sandwich with equally amazing sides of mac ‘n cheese and slaw), it took forever to come out. The good news is that the food is good enough so that you should go there for lunch or dinner even if you’re not interested in the music.

Unfortunately, while eating our food (which got to the table at around 7:35), we heard some applause. We ignored it while we ate, but then Lois got curious. She went to check it out, and it turns out that Andy Moore came on at 7:30. No announcement was made in the cafe part that we were sitting in. We wolfed down the rest of the food and caught the end of her set.

Summary: The Southern Cafe is going to be a great venue for both food and music once they get their act together. You should still attend now, because the overall evening was fantastic, but, be aware that things might not be perfectly smooth, or as advertised, for the time being.

Girlyman at Jammin Java

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Last night was our 14th time seeing Girlyman perform. Tonight will be our 15th and I’ll write about that tomorrow. 🙂

From March to October each year, we tend to see Girlyman in bursts, keeping our need/desire in check. Most years, we have a Girly-drought from October to March. It’s a rough patch, aptly named Winter, and we were happy to officially declare our version of Spring last night!

We were pleased and surprised to see Girlyman book Jammin’ Java. For the past two years, they have played The Barns at Wolf Trap this time of the year (on their VA visit). The Barns seats 400 people and Girlyman has sold out both times they’ve appeared there. We love The Barns, but the more intimate, the more we like it.

We’ve been to Jammin’ Java once before, covered in this post. We liked everything about that evening, including the food quality and selection. While that show was reasonably well attended, it didn’t prepare us for trying to accommodate Girlyman’s fans in this smaller venue.

Gone were the tables that were set up near the stage (making it easy to sit up close and still eat comfortably). Instead, they had rows of seats (theater style) from the stage all the way back to the bar area. People sat on the floor (lots of people) wherever there wasn’t a chair. Many more people stood behind the chairs all the way back to the entrance.

Jammin’ Java earned it’s name a few times over last night. First, while waiting for the seating to begin, the smell of their fresh brewed coffees was intoxicating. One of our guests commented to me that he would need to have some as dessert. We did. We got Lattes to go after the show was over and drank them on our way back to Fredericksburg.

Next there’s the intended meaning of Jammin’, the music. Wow, Girlyman was/were their usual extraordinary selves. Finally, people were literally Jammed into every opening, and no one seemed to mind in the least. We were all just happy to be part of the music and the energy (and the comedy) that is Girlyman.

So, why we do go to see groups that we love this many times, and often go out of our way to do it? The easy, obvious answer, which is 100% true is that we want to support (financially and emotionally) the groups that we love. But that’s not the whole answer.

The live experience brings with it a joy that is qualitatively different than listening to the CDs (which is something we also do a lot). With a group that has a large a catalogue like Girlyman, each show has a number of unique elements to it, even on back-to-back nights on the same tour. Then there’s also the inevitable moment of discovery, when they perform something on stage we’ve never heard, or they tell a story and reveal something we were unaware of, and our love of them deepens further.

There were a number of examples last night. We had an opportunity four months ago to tell Ty how much we love the song Could Have Guessed (on the new CD, Everything’s Easy). Last night, before playing it, we got our first shout out from them, as Ty dedicated the song to us. Cool!

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Ty told a story that we hadn’t heard before they played Young James Dean (a song we’ve seen them perform many times). She said she was inspired to write that song when she read The Last Time I Wore a Dress. Lois told me when we left that she wants to read the book.

They played a few songs we hadn’t heard them play live, including one we’ve simply never heard before, because they haven’t recorded it yet. They were:

  • St. Stephen, a song Ty co-wrote with Nate in 2006. I could feel Lois tingling throughout the song, her reaction was that palpable.
  • For the first song in the encore, Doris sang a cover of Loretta Lynn’s Fist City. We love country music, and it was fun to hear Girlyman’s take on this song.
  • They closed the encore with Up to the Sea, a stunning a capella number on the new CD. The music is by Beethoven, Nate wrote the lyrics. The three of them bunched up together and shared one microphone. We’ve listened to the song many times on the CD, but have never seen them perform it. It was magical. You couldn’t hear a rustle (let alone a whisper) in the crowd.

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Girlyman now officially has a fourth member, JJ Jones on the drums. We’ve seen JJ play with Girlyman twice before, but she was actually the full-time drummer for the opening band, Po’ Girl each of those nights, also sitting in with Girlyman.

JJ is an incredible drummer who adds a nice depth/dimension to Girlyman. Many of Girlyman’s songs have a full drum set on the CD version, so it’s quite natural to hear that full sound on stage as well.

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During Young James Dean, JJ was beyond awesome. I am grateful that I know the song so well, because I might have missed it given that I was fixated for much of it on JJ. I wasn’t alone in my awe. The second the song was over, before Ty even thanked the audience for their wild applause, she turned to JJ and introduced her, and said something to effect of “Wow, thanks JJ!”. Thank you indeed!

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JJ also was perfect on the always upbeat Joyful Sign, a song that really benefits from strong drumming. JJ never speaks on stage. Well, she never used to speak on stage. Nate asked her a question last night, which JJ typically answers with a particular drum roll. Last night she said “Yes”. Nate was as flabbergasted as the rest of us. 😉

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The other thing that Girlyman did wisely last night was not have an opening act. While we have discovered some of our favorite bands by accidentally hearing them when they were opening acts, sometimes it’s better to skip it.

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Girlyman was in effect their own opening act. They performed a 45-minute set and then broke for an intermission. They did something we are not accustomed to seeing (even in our few previous 2-set evenings seeing them). They came out during intermission to say hi to the fans and to sign merch and take photos. It’s a wonderful touch, especially for people who need to hit the road the minute the show is over and can’t wait in long lines no matter how badly they want to.

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When they returned to the stage, they played a 70-minute set, including the above-mentioned two-song encore. An absolutely wonderful evening, as I’m sure tonight will be as well. If you’re anywhere within driving distance of Charlottesville, VA, come see the magic at The Southern Cafe.

Here’s our gang (minus us) from last night:

OurGang

Victoria Lavington Fundraiser at Christopher Street Coffeehouse

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Almost two years ago, I discovered a duo named Sweet Bitters. Since then, we’ve seen them perform a number of times and have become friendly with both Sharon Goldman and Nina Schmir (also known as Nina Soka).

For many years (at least nine I believe), Sharon has been a member of a female songwriters group affectionately known as Chicks with Dip, more formally known as Maggie’s Music Salon. One of the members of that group is Victoria Lavington.

Victoria is currently undergoing a battle with breast cancer. The Chicks decided to put on a benefit concert for her, and when Sharon announced it on Facebook and Twitter, Lois and I decided to support Victoria and attend.

Sharon Goldman was MC for the night (she also performed a solo) and was marvelous throughout the evening.

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There were two featured performers announced in advance, Red Molly and Natalia Zukerman. One of the members of Red Molly, Carolann Solebello, is also a member of Chicks with Dip. We are huge Red Molly fans (Sharon told me I would love their music the first night I met her, and she was spot on!).

I had heard Natalia’s name a few times, but took particular note earlier this month when she headlined the same bill with The Paper Raincoat (one of our favorites!) up in Massachusetts.

The Christopher Street Coffeehouse is located in St. John’s Lutheran Church at 81 Christopher Street. They highlight singer songwriters on a regular basis, so it was the perfect choice (in so many ways) for this gathering.

Instruments

Attendees were encouraged to purchase tickets in advance on Victoria’s site. While there was a suggested donation per ticket, we chose to pay more. I don’t say that to aggrandize ourselves but rather to encourage those of you who can help others to do so in whatever amount you can, not just the minimum that is socially acceptable.

There were excellent refreshments and lots of merchandise (notably many CDs, all of Red Molly’s, Natalia’s new one, Maggie’s Music Salon and Victoria’s). Everything purchased at the show was donated, so 100% of the proceeds went to Victoria’s cancer fighting effort!

Let’s repeat that, because it’s awesome! Not only did Red Molly and Natalia Zukerman donate their time and talent, causing attendance to be larger than it otherwise might have been, but they donated their merch (lots of it!). Further, they didn’t put a price on the merch. Donate what you want/can, and take what you want!

We bought the two Red Molly CDs that we didn’t own already (one was brand new). We bought Natalia’s new CD and Victoria’s as well. Red Molly and Natalia were kind enough to sign our CDs. 🙂

Natalia Zukerman totally captivated us. We’ve added her to the list of people that we will go out of our way to see perform. Simply wonderful. Her voice, music, musicianship, extraordinary spirit and her command of the audience.

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Red Molly are nearly indescribable. In the cab on the way home I was thinking that the three of them control their voices perfectly, individually and blended together. The subtlety of their volume shifts and the tightness of their stops and starts are amazing. Just as I’m thinking this, Lois turns to me and says “Can you believe the discipline that Red Molly has in everything they do, in particular their voices?” 🙂

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All of the Chicks were wonderful too. They performed Victoria Lavington songs. Victoria writes extremely complex songs, so my hat is off to the Chicks both for attempting these compositions and for pulling them off lovingly and beautifully!

Apologies for the quality of a number of these photos. The lighting was just strange enough that the shots were mostly too dark or too washed out. At least you’ll get a sense of the evening…

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Here are scans of the front and back of the program so you can see what was performed and by whom. Click on any photo in this post to see a larger version:

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Susan Lavington (Victoria’s sister) flew up from Washington for the event. She was scheduled to be the opening speaker, but her flight was canceled. Thankfully, she caught another and was only a little late. She gave her wonderful speech right after intermission.

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When the performance was over, Sharon introduced Victoria. Victoria gave one of the more moving speeches I’ve heard. Knowing that she was surrounded by friends and loved ones, and knowing that everyone was there to rally around her, with her and for her, she didn’t hold back anything in telling her story.

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When she was done, she performed one of her songs for us. Apparently she hasn’t performed in public since roughly 2004. She had a chemotherapy session that day and apologized in advance that it would likely affect her vocal chords (it affects all the cells in your body!).

VictoriaLavingtonSinging

No apologies necessary! Sharon and others had described Victoria’s voice as angelic. Even on the day of a chemotherapy session, that was still true. She also picks the guitar well, making for a very moving performance. When she was done, she got a very long and well-deserved standing ovation.

To top the night off, all of the Chicks, plus Red Molly and Natalia, joined Victoria for an a capella version of another of Victoria’s numbers.

VictoriaLavingtonChicksWithDipRedMollyNataliaZukerman

The entire evening was filmed and a DVD will be produced. They were available for pre-order last night for $10. I assume that when they’re ready, they will be available for purchase on Victoria’s site. Please visit there regularly and do yourself a favor and buy a copy of the DVD. Not only will you experience some amazing music, but you will capture Victoria’s speech for yourself, forever. Whenever you need a bit of inspiration, watch it again!

Some of you might avoid these kinds of events for fear that they are downers with a lot of milling about averting your eyes. This is our second such event (the last one was a Livestrong fundraiser for Shannon Black) that I covered in this post.

If you have a chance to attend/participate in the future, go! It’s a celebration. It’s a room full of love. It’s people showing their humanity, the fragility of it embodied in the person needing the help and the wonder of compassion and love in those who rally around them.

That this event happened to be held in a church made it all the more reverent, though the Livestrong fundraiser was in a bar, and I can tell you that it was a spectacular evening for all of the same reasons!

If you have some extra money laying around, and these days, who doesn’t?, 😉 please visit Victoria’s site and donate, even though you missed last night’s wonderful show!

Susan Werner at The First Unitarian Society of Westchester

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We must have been living under a rock for a very long time, because Susan Werner is exactly the kind of singer/songwriter that we love, and Lois is particularly good at finding them.

On September 20th, 2009 we saw Red Molly at Joe’s Pub and they closed the show with an a cappella version of May I Suggest. We were blown away by the song and the performance. Lois looked it up when we got home and found that it was written by Susan Werner. Even since then, we have been looking for an opportunity to see Susan perform. The opportunity finally came, much closer to home than we expected.

The First Unitarian Society of Westchester holds a monthly music series called Common Ground Coffeehouse. Last night they featured Susan Werner. It’s about a 20-minute drive from our house. The show was sold out. I estimate there were roughly 150 people there, packed into a large rectangular room (like a super-sized living room), with no stage, just a carved out front area with a grand piano and two speakers mounted from the ceiling on either side of the room.

First, the mechanics. Susan Werner performed roughly 70% of the songs on an acoustic guitar (she switched between two different ones) and the other 30% on the grand piano. She’s an excellent guitarist and an even better piano player.

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She has a superb voice, terrific range and power. She even sang one verse of one song as Louis Armstrong, and she nailed his voice! 🙂

Susan has a commanding presence (I can’t say on stage because there was none). 😉 She is warm, engaging, funny, moving, in control. The audience was one of the best we’ve ever been a part of. You could have heard a pin drop (well, probably not, because the room was carpeted, but you get my point). 😉

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I strongly suspect that they are this respectful for all artists, but Susan commanded and earned the respect, for sure. We’ll be attending other shows in their series, I’m sure, just for the enjoyment of being able to experience a live performance in total peace!

Now for the artistic side of the equation. May I Suggest is a stunning song. Thankfully, it’s but one of many brilliant songs that Susan has written. Susan was introduced by our host for the evening (I think his name was Carter, apologies if I am wrong). He explained that Common Ground hosts a wide variety of music: Folk, Jazz, Blues, Country, etc., and for the first time, we were likely to hear all of them on the same night.

He was right! Seriously! It would be a mistake to pigeonhole Susan into a particular genre. Lois described her (to me) as the Joan Baez of our generation. I don’t disagree, but her musical styles and lyrical subject matter are much more far ranging than Joan’s.

She opened the show with a series of songs she refers to as Agnostic Gospel. I suspect that all but the most fundamentalist religious people would find the songs respectful, even though they raise lots of questions. They’re certainly spiritual, and searching rather than dismissive.

She then switched to the piano and took us in an entirely different direction, Show tunes! She led with Chicago Anyday, an ode to Chicago. After that one song, she returned to the guitar so I assumed the Show tunes part was over. I was wrong. She did an exceptional job of playing two more Show tune style songs on the guitar (I told you, she’s excellent on the guitar).

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There was a 20-minute intermission, and then Susan returned for another amazing set. The second set had a few more piano numbers, including May I Suggest. Lois cried, as did the woman to my right. A friend of hers turned to her and said “I knew that song would get to you!”, so it apparently was the first time she’d heard the song.

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She also sang Barbed Wire Boys that made Lois cry. Susan’s songs are hardly one-dimensional in the lyrics (I hope I’ve already conveyed that the music is highly varied as well). She can tell a story, an anthem, convey a concept, share an emotion, etc. Some are serious enough to make you cry, others are hysterical, and the crowd laughed heartily (simultaneously) quite a number of times (during songs as well as some of Susan’s between-song banter).

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She closed the show with three brand-new songs. All were incredible, and we look forward to getting recorded versions of them ASAP.

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When she was done, the audience gave her an extended standing ovation. She wasn’t going to be able to get out of the building without coming back for an encore, so she did the smart thing. She sang a cover of Wouldn’t It Be Lovely. If you didn’t know the lyrics (is there anyone who doesn’t?), you would never recognize that it was the same song. It was beautiful, but Susan made it her own!

She left to another standing ovation. We headed to the merch table and bought two CDs. Lois was second on line to get them signed. The woman ahead of Lois went to get a Sharpie for Susan, and it took her a while to find one, so Lois got to chat with Susan for an extended period, without being a hog, since Susan couldn’t sign yet. When the woman returned, Susan signed her CD first, then both of ours, and we headed home, floating from a perfect evening.

New York Sings for Haiti

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On most days even compassionate people go about their lives in a near bubble-like existence. The problems of the rest of the world aren’t one’s first thought. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to break us out of that routine and remind us that we are dramatically more alike than we are different, us fragile humans.

The explosion of text messages sent to raise money after the earthquake in Haiti proved that if you make it easy to give, many people will happily do so, even if it isn’t the most prudent thing for them to do.

There are many ways to give. As important as direct monetary donations are, raising awareness is also crucial as the ever-widening circle of giving, volunteering and compassion have a chance to work their way deeper into our lives.

Many artists live more obvious compassionate lives, creating art as an outlet for deep-seated emotions. They also have fans, which makes raising awareness a little easier for them than for ordinary folk.

Many musicians participated in many benefit concerts (some televised globally) over the past week. I applaud all of those efforts. For the bigger acts, pulling off these last-minute mega-shows is difficult, I’m sure, but the machinery that surrounds them is geared toward doing that kind of work, and money is never an obstacle.

In the incredible vibrant indie music scene in NYC, the story of last night’s benefit concert is inspiring in showing what can be accomplished with compassion, and a crazy amount of effort (and let’s not forget talent as well!).

Alex Berger is a very talented singer/songwriter who is visiting from the UK. He was staying at a friend’s apartment for a week, the extraordinary photographer Ric Agudelo (an incredible person, who we were lucky to meet as a result of this benefit).

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After spending the evening at Rockwood Music Hall enjoying some music, they were both heartbroken to hear about the earthquake in Haiti. Sitting on Ric’s couch at 1am they decided that they had to try and do something. Ric said that they should get cracking first thing in the morning. Alex said let’s send out some emails right now, and so it began.

Alex was able to get commitments from over a dozen of NYC’s most amazing musicians. Ric was able to secure one of the finest places to see a show in NYC, City Winery. Ric and others then went into overdrive to pull all of the logistics together (a daunting task!) and Alex worked with the musicians to create a show that the audience will never forget.

Giving/sacrifice comes in many flavors. Quite a number of the musicians who agreed instantly to participate did so knowing that they would have to change prior commitments on a moment’s notice. A large group of them postponed a writers retreat. Alex Wong flew cross-country just for the show. Many other similar stories.

As active as we are in attending shows in NY so are many other music lovers. We’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of meeting a few other passionate fans as a result of another example of these artists giving whenever they can.

Shannon Black is a cancer survivor. She is a wonderful person in all respects and is inspirational in many ways, including that she runs in the NYC Marathon each year, raising money for Livestrong in the process. We met Shannon (and her husband and fellow music-lover Jason) at their Livestrong fundraiser, where again, Alex Berger arranged for 11 musicians to perform and donate their time and talent.

Half way through the show last night, Shannon came up to me and gave me a hand-written note, asking me if I would mind including it in my blog. Not only don’t I mind, I’m honored to share it with the rest of you:

Hadar,

When you blog about this magical night, could you say something for me?

Not only have we been brought together for a great cause, but in witnessing these musicians making themselves so vulnerable, I have been called/pressed/pulled to that which my life was meant for!

I got a second chance, so I needed this, tonight!

In a nutshell, in witnessing their “magic”, I have been called to that which “God meant for me to do!”

Last thing before getting on with the show. While most musicians rehearse before their shows, the challenge in preparing for last night’s show was monumental. There was a house band (a group of amazing musicians) that played with most of the acts. They had practically no time to learn tons of material, and, of course, they nailed it all!

The house band consisted of: Tony Maceli (who also coordinated the entire show including running the rehearsals!), Chris Kuffner, Marika Hughes, Kevin Rice, Adam Christgau, Melissa Tong, Ward Williams and a number of other people whose names I didn’t catch, sorry!

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While the show was sold out (no surprise), in addition to the money raised from ticket sales, there was a raffle (including two high-end guitars, donated by Martin and Gibson, which were signed by all of the performers!). The show was streamed live for those that couldn’t make it and there were opportunities throughout the stream to donate.

If I understand correctly, as soon as possible, they will release a CD and DVD of the show as well, having additional opportunities to raise more funds for this very worthy cause.

Typically, I go into great detail about each act in the shows we attend (often, each individual performer in each band). If I did that now, I’d be publishing this blog late next week, and the purpose of this post, and of last night, wasn’t to critique the performance, but to revel in the kindness and generosity of all involved, performers and audience alike.

The music ranged from soft a capella (the always blissful Rewind by The Paper Raincoat) to hard rock by both The Bongos and Harper Blynn. Everything in between as well, including Jazz, Pop, Folk, Country.

Most performed two or three numbers, with a few last-minute guests coming on for only a single song. One example of the latter was a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, Sara Jean Kelly who drove up, sang one song, and made us take note of her talent! One other person not listed was an Israeli singer/songwriter. I thought they announced her as Tal, but perhaps it was Tula. I apologize if I linked to the wrong person there. Thanks to a comment from Rebecca, I now know I was wrong in that last sentence. The singer was Paula Valstein.

Here are the artists in the order that they appeared. Many appeared on stage with other artists, and of course, the incredible house band supported most of them (a few had their own bands, and I apologize for not doing my normally thorough job of naming every one of them!).

Martin Rivas (still recuperating from foot surgery, came up with his crutches!)

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The Bongos (I believe that they were originally slated to headline City Winery that night. Incredibly generous of them to give up that kind of spotlight and share the stage with everyone else!)

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The Wellspring (a newly formed duet, last night was their public debut I think. Supported by Alex Berger, ambeR Rubarth and Wes Hutchinson.)

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Nate Campany (supported by many of the other performers)

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Rosi Golan (our first time seeing her, amazing!)

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Will Knox

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Ed Romanoff

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Sara Jean Kelly

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Tula Paula Valstein (now corrected, thanks again Rebecca!)

Tula

Wes Hutchinson (supported by his band, Reel by Reel)

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amber Rubarth (supported by Threeds, Ed Romanoff, Ari Hest and Tony Maceli playing trumpet)

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Threeds

Ian Axel (ahhhhhhhhhhhh, supported by Chad Vaccarino)

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Alex Berger (fabulous, topped off by Love, supported by ambeR and Vienna Teng. Tony Maceli played a wonderful trumpet)

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Joey Ryan (supported by Vienna Teng and Dave Eggar)

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Greg Holden (supported by Ian Axel, Joey Ryan and ambeR)

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Harper Blynn

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Vienna Teng (supported by Alex Wong and Kevin Rice. Actually, Vienna opened with an a capella number with roughly 10 people on stage, including many of the evening’s performers!)

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The Spring Standards (new discovery for me. They’re great. I was particularly impressed with Heather’s voice!)

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Ari Hest (with his own band. First time we got to see him perform in a lead role. Marvelous voice!)

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The Paper Raincoat closed the show. Unbelievably fitting for us, because every single connection that we have with the local music scene in NYC emanated from our discovery of them when they opened for Colin Hay in April 2009. It’s amazing that our journey is so short, and yet so rich, all thanks to ambeR Rubarth and Alex Wong.

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Of course, they were magical (they always are).

ThePaperRaincoatRewind

To top everything off, most of the artists came back on stage for a fittingly named finale: Help is on the Way, a song by Alex Wong’s former group, The Animators. There were roughly 30 people on stage singing their hearts out. Elizabeth Ziman of Elizabeth and the Catapult joined Vienna at the piano for the finale.

Finale2Finale1Finale3ElizabethZimanViennaTeng

The show ended at exactly 1am, five solid hours of incredible spirit and music.

That said, last night really wasn’t about the music, as much as we all may have loved it. It’s about seeing what can be accomplished, in a very short time, by people who are motivated to do something selfless for others. It was wonderful to be the tiniest part of that effort.

Thank you to everyone involved in putting on the show and raising the money, and special thanks for Alex Berger and Ric Agudelo!

Alex Berger and The Bowmans at Living Room

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We weren’t scheduled to be in NYC last night. When we ran into Alex Berger on Saturday night at City Winery and he mentioned that he was playing on Monday at The Living Room. That was all we needed to hear to rearrange our schedule and stay in the city a few extra days.

Alex is a wonderful singer/songwriter with excellent piano skills. He is primarily a master of Jazz/Blues/Ragtime styles, though he’s by no means boxed in there.

AlexBergerPiano

Listening to Alex sing and play causes me to instantly transport to a simpler time and place. My body completely relaxes and I’m lost in the journey. He’s a crooner for those of you old enough to know the term. 🙂

We’ll have to see if he can continue to write such lovely songs if his love-life stops throwing material at him. 😉

We’ve seen Alex a few times before, but he still managed to surprise us last night. One one number, he brought up the incredible Adam Levy to play the guitar while Alex sang (no piano). It’s a song they co-wrote last year. You can see a black and white YouTube video of them playing this song.

AdamLevyAlexBerger

Sitting (and not playing) on the right in that video is the wonderful bass player Tony Maceli. Last night, Tony accompanied Alex throughout the set, including joining Alex and Adam on this number. Adam took an incredible guitar solo (accompanied by Tony), and Tony took a wonderful bass solo with Adam supplying the rhythm.

TonyMacelli

But, that’s not the surprise. Surprise! What was new was Alex picking up Adam’s guitar (before Adam came on stage) and Alex did a song we’d seen him play before on the piano, but this time he did it on the guitar. He did a very nice job, and I look forward to him arranging guitar parts for existing and future songs as well!

AlexBergerGuitar

The other major surprise (for a very different reason), was getting see the amazing Adam Christgau on drums. I’ve written about Adam many times, as he’s the primary drummer for The Paper Raincoat, ambeR Rubarth, Ian Axel, Greg Holden, Alex Berger and many others who we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing live yet (he’s one busy guy!).

AdamChristgau

From seeing Adam’s tweets over the weekend, I knew he was very sick. Still, he played a show (perhaps two!) on Sunday night. But another artist that he plays with, Jenny Owen Youngs tweeted yesterday that she was off to Maine for a week of songwriting with a bunch of people, including Adam! So, I was sure he was not going to be there last night.

It turns out that Adam is joining them this coming weekend, and even though he was still incredibly sick, he was as good as he always is, adding to our enjoyment of Alex’s set. Adam, you should have stayed in bed for your sake, but for ours, we thank you for dragging yourself out! 🙂

Alex’s set last night was made possible through an invitation by The Bowmans for Alex to open for them. The Bowmans have a residency this month at The Living Room, performing on three consecutive Monday nights at 9pm, beginning last night. We decided to stay to hear them as well.

The Bowmans are (beautiful) identical twin sisters from Iowa, who now make their home in Brooklyn (as so many excellent indie artists do). While they indeed look alike, I would bet serious money that I could tell them apart even if they went out of their way to fool me. There, I’ve laid down the gauntlet! 😉

They both have exceptional voices, with a lot of range, clarity and power. Their harmonies are anything but vanilla, and the sound is often hauntingly beautiful. Sarah accompanies them on the guitar on every song (except for one a capella number). Sarah is also the primary songwriter (at least for last night’s set).

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Claire said that she wrote the a capella number that they performed. She also played the glockenspiel on one or two numbers, and used a shaker a few times. She had two tambourines, and played one or both to excellent effect.

ClaireBowman1Tambourine ClaireBowman2Tambourines ClaireBowmanGlockenspiel

Glockenspiel

As beautiful as their sound is, it also felt pretty dark throughout the set. There is a brooding, angst-ridden quality. If you’re in the mood to delve into those dark places (lyrics or music), then The Bowmans may be exactly what you’re looking for.

We had a lovely evening out and are very glad we changed our plans. If we were younger, we would have wandered a few blocks over to Rockwood Music Hall to catch Ari Hest and Rosi Golan, neither of whom we’ve had the pleasure of seeing live yet. A number of the people who attended Alex Berger and The Bowmans did just that.

Jerry Douglas and John Oates at Highline Ballroom

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Jerry Douglas has a new Christmas CD out, Jerry Christmas. He’s touring actively in support of that CD. Special guest stars on this tour are John Oates (of Hall and Oates fame) and Maura O’Connell. Both John and Maura are up for a Grammy this year. Jerry has 12 Grammys already!

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We expected the majority of the show to be Christmas songs. They started off the show with the first two cuts from the Christmas CD, The First Noel and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I was completely entranced.

JerryDouglas3 JerryDouglas1

The mood was quickly broken. Jerry introduced Maura O’Connell (an obvious crowd favorite). She sang two numbers that were lovely, but didn’t feel Christmasy to me. Maura has a saucy stage presence. While we both typically like artists who can connect directly with the audience, it broke the reverent mood created by the first two instrumental numbers.

MauraOConnell2 MauraOConnell1

After the fourth song, Jerry introduced John Oates. His first number was Christmas Song (written by Mel Torme). John still has an excellent voice, and he surprised me throughout the show with his quality guitar playing. He is an incredibly self-effacing man, who fit right in with the amazing spirit always put out by the Jerry Douglas Band.

JohnOates1

Sprinkled throughout the set, John played a number of other songs, including She’s Gone (one of the many Hall and Oates hits). He also sang with Maura (and she harmonized on a few of his numbers). Still, most of his songs were not Christmas ones. While they were really good, they too didn’t strike us as fitting the overall flow and mood of the evening.

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When neither John nor Maura was singing, the Jerry Douglas Band played eight of the 12 songs from the new CD. Every one was special, as is the CD (which we own).

The first of a two-song encore was a Gaelic a capella number sung by Maura and Jerry. Gorgeous (he really has a very good voice). Jerry also sang harmony with Maura and John on a few numbers, all well done.

JerryDouglasGaelicACapella

Jerry also threw in Who’s Your Uncle, a high-energy Jerry Douglas tune that would typically highlight a normal Jerry Douglas Band show. They played Sir Aly B to close the encore. Both Who’s Your Uncle and Sir Aly B are on The Best Kept Secret CD.

Guthrie Trapp blew me away again on the guitar. The man is just incredible. His mandolin playing isn’t half bad either. Lois got him to sign a set list for us (really me) after the show. I was speechless, so she had to do the asking. 😉

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Chad Melton played the drums (like he did when we saw them at the Blue Note). Again, he was excellent. Very understated, but right there with the right beat and sound the entire set.

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Todd Parks was again wonderful on the bass all night, both upright and electric.

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Normally, Luke Bulla fulfills the fiddle playing for the Jerry Douglas Band. He wasn’t there last night (even though he’s on the Jerry Christmas CD), and there was no mention of why he wasn’t there. As good as he is, he wasn’t missed.

Taking his place were two fiddle players. It didn’t take two to fill his shoes, as both are great in their own right. But, especially with the Christmas music, having two fiddle players (perhaps I should say violin this one time), made it sound more like an orchestra playing with Jerry!

I am most embarrassed to say that I can’t remember the name of one of the fiddle players, even though Jerry said his name (once) last night. To make matters worse, I’ve seen him play before (with another band), and can’t for the life of me remember which one. Of course, no end of searching yielded the answer either… 🙁

He was excellent all night, in particular when he played duets with the other fiddle player, and he played mandolin on a few numbers as well. Here’s his photo, perhaps a kind reader can fill in the details for me:

UnknownFiddler2 UnknownFiddler1

Alex Hargreaves played the fiddle and sang on one number. He looks like he’s 12. 😉 He’s an absolutely extraordinary musician and has played with some of the greatest musicians in the country, now including Jerry Douglas.

AlexHargreaves1AlexHargreaves2AlexHargreaves3

We had a great time, and loved the show. That said, we each would have enjoyed a more typical Jerry Douglas show, or a Christmas-only show. Mixing and matching worked only in the sense that each song is played by consummate musicians who will make anything sound good, but the flow/magic was missing at times.

Keith Urban and Sugarland at MSG

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Thursday was a very big night for our musical tastes in NYC. Our favorite band, Girlyman, was in town playing in our favorite club, Joe’s Pub. The Paper Raincoat (playing under the top-secret moniker Cardboard Bikini) was playing at Rockwood Music Hall. The group that has been opening for most of Girlyman’s shows on this tour, Po’ Girl was playing at The Living Room and Will Knox was playing at Rockwood Music Hall.

Months before any of those shows were announced, we bought two tickets to see Keith Urban and Sugarland at Madison Square Garden (MSG). Having seen them each once before at MSG (not on the same bill), we knew that even though we were missing other great shows, we wouldn’t be disappointed that we decided to stick with our original plan!

Keith came on stage at 9pm (I’ll cover Sugarland after Keith). He had five band members on stage with him. Keith is an extraordinary guitar player, all styles, has a superb voice (great range as well) and for the most part, has a really good catalog of songs. While we own two of his CDs, and I like them both, I’m not drawn to them in the way I am to many others.

All that changes when you see him live. He is a consummate performer and entertainer, and for that alone, it would worth seeing him live (along with the top-notch production crew and execution). Even that isn’t the real reason to go (IMHO). As I mentioned in my last post after seeing him at MSG, Keith has an aura, a presence, a soul, that is completely captivating. That he delivers 100% on the performance and the music, is gravy (good gravy, indeed).

KeithUrbanCloseup

He is generous in so many ways (a quality we admire greatly, and I call it out whenever I spot it). Not only does he thank everyone involved in bringing this big a show to so many cities, he thanked the crowd, for finding a way in these tough times, to come out to the show. More on that a little later on.

Keith delivers consistently from soft ballads, accompanying himself on a solo acoustic guitar, to hard-driving rock songs, with the full band cranking out ear-splitting sounds. He plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and on one special number, sung to his wife (Nicole Kidman, who was in the audience last night), he played electric keyboards (very well!).

KeithUrbanKeyboards KeithUrbanAcousticGuitar

We sat pretty far back and reasonably high up (these shows are nearly sold out before tickets go on sale, let’s not even get started on that nonsense, or the outrageous fees associated with purchasing via TicketMaster). That makes the people on the stage look like hand puppets. Here’s a view from our seats:

ViewFromOurSeats

Similar to last year, but still quite different this time, Keith overcomes that by projecting the action on very large screens at the back of the stage, and large (but much smaller ones) to the left and right of the stage. The effect is generally excellent, and you really do feel that you’re part of the show, and not just a distant observer.

Here are a group of shots to give you a sense. In most, you can see the people on the stage, in front of the giant screens. You can click on any picture in this post to see a larger version:

KeithUrban1 KeithUrban2 KeithUrban3 KeithUrban4 KeithUrban5

To somewhat compensate for the fact that very few people can experience him up close and personal, Keith spends a decent amount of time moving around in the crowd. The simplest thing is that he has a ramp at either end of the stage where he plays to the crowds on either side, as if they were center stage!

KeithUrbanRightSideStage

The more complex maneuvers involve a few bodyguards leading (and trailing) the way as he runs through the crowd, continuing to sing and play the guitar while moving, until he settles somewhere. Twice, he ended up on a tiny alternate stage toward that back of the floor area. At most it was a 6’ x 6’ platform (it could have been as small as 4’ x 4’).

The first time he made his way back there, he played a solo number on electric guitar, leading it off by asking the crowd “Who has the good seats now?” 🙂

KeithUrbanMiniStage

He followed that by sitting down for a soulful acoustic number, accompanied subtly but gorgeously by the drums (perhaps a whisper of some other instruments) which were still back on the original (darkened) stage. Then the lights came up on the stage, and the full band played another number, with all of them seated on the stage, as Keith remained seated on the mini-stage in the back.

KeithUrbanMiniStageSeated

There was no buffer zone from the mini-stage to the crowd back there, so Keith was high-fiving and shaking hands with a lot of people between songs. He then promptly made his way back to the main stage, while singing and playing the guitar the entire way through the crowd.

KeithUrbanAmongTheCrowd

He descended into the crowd at least three more times. He went into the stands, and sang part of a song surrounded by the folks, no stage involved. He then made his way back to the mini-stage for part of a song, and from there, worked his way back to the main stage through the other side of the floor.

None of it feels like a trick, even though it obviously is, as you feel his desire to connect with, and give value to the audience, even those that are stuck far away from the main stage. He pulls it off perfectly, every time. When they show the beaming faces on the big screens, even if you’re not one of them, you feel the same elation on their behalf.

KeithUrbanAdoringFans

He warned the audience early on that this wasn’t going to be a short show, and he told the truth. Including a very nice encore, Keith was on stage for nearly two hours and 15 minutes! Don’t forget, there was also an opening act!

About 3/4’s of the way in, Keith invited Sugarland to join him. They did a stunning number that was 50% a capella and 50% with Keith and Kristian playing their guitars. Fantastic!

I mentioned his generosity, and I’d like to go into a bit more detail on that. I’ll start with his band. Nearly all artists introduce each member of their band by name at least once in the show. Not all do, and there will be an example of that later on. Keith goes way beyond just introducing them, and aside from the wonderful spirit in which he does it, for me personally, it made a big difference in another way.

Here are some good shots of the band on the big screens:

KeithUrbanBand3 KeithUrbanBand1 KeithUrbanBand2

There are five people in Keith’s band. Three of them play any number of stringed instruments, one of them plays the electric bass and there is a drummer. While it’s inconceivable that the band members aren’t among the best musicians around (after all, Keith can obviously have his pick), the general sound is so loud, and Keith is such a highlight in most songs, that it’s really hard to notice any of the band members too critically.

In particular, except for when the banjo is the lead-in to a song, it’s hard to even hear that the banjo is being played (later on in the same song). So, rather than just introduce each member, Keith explains what their expertise is, and then gives each of them (individually) the main mic, center stage, and let’s them have the sole spotlight for 2-3 minutes each.

Wow! Each of the four guys (not including the drummer, who I’ll get to in a minute), have incredible voices. While you can hear harmonies with Keith, you can’t tell who’s singing, and the instruments drown it out a bit. Those four guys are (each of the photos was of them, during their spotlight solo!):

Brad Rice on vocals, guitars, banjo and mandolin.

BradRice

Chris Rodriguez on vocals, guitars, banjo and mandolin.

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Brian Nutter on vocals, guitars, banjo and mandolin.

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Jerry Flowers on vocals and bass.

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Last, but certainly not least, we come to the extraordinary drummer, Chris McHugh. I am drum fanatic, and I write a lot about the many great drummers we see. For this kind of music (Country, Rock, Ballads), he’s the best (in my opinion). If you didn’t click through to my last post about seeing Keith at MSG, I’ll repeat what I said about Chris here:

While the entire band was superb, I feel the need to specifically call out the drummer, Chris McHugh. I had never heard the name before, but obviously, I’ve heard him before. If you look at the page I linked to, I own at least four of the albums he’s played on, and I saw the movie Cars as well. I don’t know how he finds the time to eat given how much studio work he puts in, but he’s so amazing, that I understand why all of these superstars want him!

He was that good, again, last night.

ChrisMcHugh

As if that wasn’t enough, Keith called up the entire road crew on the stage, and thanked them for the great job that they do. Come on, who else does that? When the encore was over, the big screen ran the Credits like in a movie, and in addition to the band, every member of the road crew was listed, along with their job. The scrolling went on and on. It’s the right thing to do, and we applaud Keith for doing it!

KeithUrbanRoadCrew

Credits1 Credits2

As the encore was ending, Keith ran off stage (while the song was still going on). A camera followed him running through the tunnels in the back of MSG. Then he ran on to the street (all while the song was still being played by the band on stage). Then he hailed a cab, got in, waved, and drove off. It was a fun touch to end the evening. 🙂

KeithUrbanHailingCab

On to Sugarland. We both love Sugarland, now a duo made up of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush. They are supported by five additional band members.

JenniferNettles

KristianBush

For all that, Sugarland is effectively Jennifer Nettles  (don’t get me wrong, Kristian and the band are very talented, but it really doesn’t matter). Jennifer has one of the most consistently amazing voices in Country music. It’s strong, clear, has incredible range, deliver emotions appropriately and everything else you could want from a voice. She plays guitar (well) on a few numbers, but that doesn’t matter either.

She also has an infectious spirit on stage, and a great smile, that was captured in all its glory on the big screens.

The other thing that makes Sugarland great is that whomever picks their songs (they write some, but I believe that they cut more than they create) is a genius (it may be them, I don’t know). Whereas Keith brings average songs to life in person, Sugarland starts with 90% of their recorded songs being phenomenal to begin with. That they then deliver a fantastic live performance makes it all the more delicious.

While Keith’s sound got a bit too loud in the higher energy numbers, Sugarland’s never did, and Jennifer’s voice was perfect (in every sense, including volume) last night. In fact, we normally hate the acoustics (and sound levels) at MSG, but for Sugarland’s performance, I was quite impressed.

Here’s a picture of the audience from their perspective from the stage, as shown on the big screen:

ViewFromStage

They did two numbers (at least) where it was just the two of them, both singing (mostly Jennifer) and Kristian playing acoustic guitar. Not the type of sound you would expect to fill MSG. Her voice (all by itself), did! It enveloped every person in the crowd, and drizzled honey on all of us. 🙂

Here’s a shot of them with a cool effect where they appear in silhouette on the big screen (you can see them standing right in front of the big screens at the bottom of the photo if you click on it):

SugarlandSilhouette

All of that is the good stuff. For the bad, the mirror image of Keith’s generosity. Sugarland didn’t introduce a single member of their band, even though they were on stage for 70 minutes! They had excellent chemistry with the band, in particular with the female bassist. They even closed the show with the two of them surrounding the drummer on his final flourish.

We don’t understand that, and it doesn’t happen all that often.

I’m going to try to do what Sugarland doesn’t, and give them some credit, which they richly deserve. Unfortunately, I might be naming the wrong people, since I really can’t be sure who was on stage (in particular since we were so far away!):

Annie Clements played the electric bass and sang quite a bit. The bass playing was good, but the voice was exceptional. She also has an excellent stage presence, and hammed it up quite a bit with Jennifer (hence my assertion that the chemistry seemed great on stage).

AnnieClements

Brandon Bush (Kristian’s brother!) plays keyboards (don’t know if he sang, I simply couldn’t see). He was excellent throughout the set.

Scott Patton played lead guitar. At least I’m pretty sure it was him. He was really good throughout as well.

ScottPattonScottPattonGuitar

Thad Beaty played guitar and sang. Another good performance all around.

Travis McNabb played the drums. He was particularly good.

Anyway, I feel better now. 🙂

When the show was over, we were both sorely tempted to do something that we’re too old to do, and not temperamentally suited to do, and that was to head over to Rockwood Music Hall, and catch the Paper Raincoat show, which began at midnight! We came close to pushing our limit, but some sanity returned and ruled the day.

The main reason we didn’t push it is that we have a wedding weekend that we’re attending in Princeton, NJ (I’m typing this in the hotel at the moment), and we didn’t want to fall asleep during the rehearsal dinner. 🙂

Red Molly and The Nields at Joe’s Pub

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Last night I finally got to scratch an itch that I’ve had since April 5th, 2008! That’s the night that we first saw Sweet Bitters live. I covered that show in this post, but as you can see, in the comments, Sharon suggested that I check out Red Molly. The minute I heard their stuff (you can hit the Play button on the top right of their site) I knew I would love their show.

We had a failed attempt to see them that month (as I noted in the comments), and since then, I’ve actively searched for opportunities, but scheduling kept conspiring against us. Until last night, finally!

As a bonus, another group that I’m pretty sure I heard about through Sweet Bitters (but I wouldn’t swear to it), The Nields, were opening for Red Molly.

Red Molly were awesome, in every respect. They opened the show with an a capella number, showing off their amazing voices, individually, and collectively (in glorious harmonies). They also closed the show with an a cappella encore, again, sending shivers down our spines.

Red Molly consists of three very talented ladies. Standing left-to-right on the stage:

Abbie Gardner sings, plays dobro and acoustic guitar. She sings like an angel, usually taking the highest part in the harmonies, but she sang quite a bit of lead as well. She’s an excellent dobro player (no one is in Jerry Douglas’ league, so don’t ask!). She plays the guitar well too. She also wrote at least one of the songs they played last night (Red Molly does more covers than originals), and it was excellent. Abbie was also very funny and engaging on the stage.

Abbie Gardner

Abbie Gardner

Laurie MacAllister sang, played the banjo, acoustic guitar, and acoustic bass. Laurie has an incredible voice, plays the banjo, guitar and bass well. I’d never seen this style of acoustic bass before. It looks exactly like a normal guitar, but it only has four strings, and sounds like an upright bass.

Laurie MacAllister

Laurie MacAllister

Carolann Solebello sang, played the acoustic guitar and acoustic bass. Carol also has an incredible voice, carrying the lower range for the group. She’s also a talented guitar player, and handled the bass with aplomb as well. Of the three, Carolann is probably a little more animated on stage, but all three are extremely warm.

Carolann Solebello

Carolann Solebello

They played for roughly 50 minutes, including the encore, and every note was a joy. After the show, we bought one of their CDs, and Lois got Abbie to sign it. 🙂

Red Molly

Red Molly

The Nields are two sisters, Nerissa and Katryna. Nerissa sings and plays the acoustic guitar. Katryna sings. Both have lovely voices, and they sing beautifully together. Nerissa plays the guitar well, and accompaniment and arrangements are traditional folk style (like Peter, Paul and Mary, etc.), which is one of my all-time favorite genres.

Katryna Nields

Katryna Nields

Nerissa Nields

Nerissa Nields

They are both very warm and engaging with the audience. Katryna told a very long story (very well), and Nerissa took over at the end to make some corrections (remember, they’re sisters!) 😉 and it was funny and worth the break from the music (not that any break would be necessary when these two are on stage!).

We bought their CD too after the show, and Lois got both of them to sign it. I’m in the process of loading both the Red Molly and The Nields CDs onto my iPod as I type this, and we look forward to many listens in the months to come.

Thanks to both Red Molly and The Nields for exceeding our very big expectations after such a long wait to finally get to see them perform live!

theSet NYC at Le Poisson Rouge

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A month ago, I posted about a wonderful weekend that included catching Altar Boyz at New World Stages. As a result (I assume) I received an email from Pim, a member of the team that founded theSet NYC.

theSet NYC is a great idea. Collect a group of talented performers and promote a show featuring a bunch of them on the same night. The idea is to give these people an alternative to the grind of a pure open mic night. Pim used to do standup comedy (and might again in the future), so he was well aware of the difficulties of getting the appropriate breaks.

For the performers, it typically means a slightly longer set (roughly 15 minutes each) and a (hopefully) friendlier crowd. For the audience, it typically means a (slightly) more vetted group of performers (no one who just mustered up the courage five minutes ago to get up on the stage), and also a friendlier atmosphere (not oriented toward heckling, etc.).

theSet NYC aims to put on a show once a month. They use a number of venues, one of which is the lounge at New World Stages, which is how I guess Pim ended up finding me.

One of Pim’s roles is blogger outreach. Once he connected with me via email, he invited me to attend their next show, which was last night, at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR), in the Gallery Bar (downstairs, they also have a more traditional club upstairs). The show fit with our schedule, so we decided to attend.

Pim

Pim

Most of the shows have been free to date (including last night), though there’s no guarantee of that in the future. We arrived at 7pm (the show started at 8pm) because we intended to eat (and drink) at Gallery Bar first.

You can check out the menu to see the eclectic range of food and drink offered there. Lois had the Edamame. She raved non-stop while she was eating them. I had the Spicy Tuna Roll (absolutely incredible), and the Sloppy Kobe Joes. Folks, I do believe that this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Not quite a hamburger (because it’s not pressed together in a patty, since it’s a sloppy joe), and with a sauce that’s spicy (not hot, flavorful!) and fantastic.

If theSet NYC did nothing else for us, it introduced us to a place that we will return to for the food alone, no doubt! In addition, the lovely bartender made me a perfect Chocolate Martini. Thanks!

Gallery Bar Bartender

Gallery Bar Bartender

On to the show. Lois asked me to cover the performers in the order that we liked them, rather than in the order that they appeared. Seems fair enough to me, so here goes (I think we are in basic agreement on the order, but I’m not double checking with her, so technically, this is my personal order):

Evon Campbell was the most consistently funny of the comedians (which dominated last night’s show). He has a very relaxed style which relaxes the audience. He is then easily able to catch the audience off guard with very clever jokes that aren’t easy to predict (the best kind). Here’s a three minute video of him from a previous theSet NYC show (he didn’t repeat a single line from this clip last night!).

Evon Campbell

Evon Campbell

Arthur Carlson had the most professional delivery of the group last night. Here’s a clip of a bit he did last night as well. He was more in control of the audience than the rest, and appeared more comfortable and self-assured on stage than the rest. I’ll have a more general note at the end, in which I’ll have some more to say about Arthur.

Arthur Carlson

Arthur Carlson

Kai Raziq hosted the evening. He didn’t actually do any specific routines, but his style on stage was engaging, and we all chuckled at nearly everything he said, even though he wasn’t telling any jokes per se.

Kai Raziq

Kai Raziq

Alec Sobel held his own reasonably well. He too has a professional quality to his delivery. Here is a link to a five minute video that will give you a good sense of his style and genre. At the bottom of the page is a link to a different video that is a little less adult in nature (not much, but perhaps a little cursing removed).

Alec Sobel

Alec Sobel

Matt Rittberg was close behind Alec in my opinion. While he too has a pretty good command of the stage, he relied a bit too much on sexual jokes, and isn’t quite expert enough to walk that kind of tight rope. Here is a page with a variety of videos of Matt’s routines which includes stuff the seems cleverer than most of the material he did last night.

Matt Rittberg

Matt Rittberg

I’m going to present the next two performers (the only musical ones last night) in the order that Lois preferred them. For my taste, I would swap them, but I’ll predict and respect Lois’ choice.

Adontay sang two songs last night. The first was a cappella and we both enjoyed it more than we thought we would when he first started. Adontay has a very nice voice, and the song was pretty good too. Unfortunately, he didn’t carry that through to the second number. In that one, he had a soundtrack (played off of a laptop). The song wasn’t as good (in our opinion) and was a little too long. When the soundtrack ended, he continued a cappella, and to our ears, rambled off key and out of tune. He has a lot of talent, but he needs significantly more polish and practice.

Adontay

Adontay

Stephanie Carlin sang and played acoustic guitar. I think she has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well enough, and has a reasonable amount of stage presence. Unfortunately, neither of us was drawn to her two original songs. They brought her back on stage at the end because two of the scheduled performers didn’t show up, and we somewhat preferred the two covers she did then (a medley of Hit the Road Jack and Moondance). The raw talent (at least in the voice) is most definitely there, but the performance and musical selection isn’t our personal cup of tea.

Stephanie Carlin

Stephanie Carlin

Ranked last in both of our opinions, but opening the show (which made for a tense few minutes when we thought the rest of the night would be like this) was April Brucker. Her delivery last night was completely flat (close to zero energy). She started with very crude sexual jokes about her roommate, and then brought out the roommate (from a suitcase), a puppet called May.

April Brucker

April Brucker

April describes herself as an Inappropriate Ventriloquist. That’s an incredibly apt description. She’s a reasonably talented ventriloquist, and she’s beyond inappropriate. I’m sure that the college boys laugh like hell at that kind of shock you humor.

I can’t reconcile her lack of energy last night with this video. In the video, she has tremendous energy, but the same crude humor. At the four minute mark, she introduces May, so you can get a sense of that part of the act last night as well.

I have explained in a number of posts how much I love comedy (and laughing) in all forms, even crude ones. Lois isn’t as forgiving of pure crudeness, which she (correctly) equates with comic laziness. In other words, it’s easier to get a laugh by shocking your audience (especially if you’re female) than by actually being clever.

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all time, and he never resorts to cursing. He doesn’t resort to much sexual innuendo either, and when he does, it’s high level enough to be acceptable even if kids are in the room.

If I wasn’t sitting with Lois, and analyzing in my head the fact that a crude joke probably just rubbed her the wrong way, I would enjoy the crudeness a bit more myself. Still, fundamentally, I agree with her that it’s a cheap way to get a laugh.

That said, I mentioned above that I would circle back to Arthur Carlson. He had two routines that were 100% sexual in nature. One was actually gross (if you attempted to visualize it). Yet, I laughed like hell at both (even the gross one), and even Lois chuckled at the gross one, and liked the other one a lot.

There were three things that made us/Lois react differently to Arthur’s sexual jokes than to most other such references:

  1. His delivery is so professional that you’re listening to a true joke teller, not someone just trying to deliver a crude one-liner.
  2. Both jokes were very inventive. The punch lines weren’t predictable, so it wasn’t shock value that made you laugh, it was the imagery and the comedic absurdity of what he was saying.
  3. It was a change of pace for him. Since he was able to tell a bunch of clean jokes too, telling a clever sexual joke caught the audience more off guard than when they are coming at you one after another.

While this isn’t really Lois’ idea of a perfect night out, we both had a really good time, and would recommend catching a theSet NYC show to anyone who is interested in seeing fresh talent, in good quantity, in reasonably contained sets (in case any one performer isn’t to your liking), in a very pleasant and supportive atmosphere. If it’s in the Gallery Bar at Le Poisson Rouge, then we can recommend the food and drink very highly as well!

Thanks again to Pim for reaching out, and to Leo (the producer of the show) for making it happen!

Leo

Leo