A Cappella

Colin Hay at Canal Room

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I was very late to the blogging world. Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation) needled me for a while, and I finally relented. My only goal was to document our lives (mostly the good memories) in excruciating detail, so that as our memories fade (or fail), we’d have a record to look back on, semi-authoritative.

In doing so, I told the stories of our lives in chronological order, because I was writing for myself. After a while, when covering music events became a major theme here, Lois strongly requested (she would be annoyed at me if I said insisted) 😉 that I cover the headliner first, then the opening act, then our background story. That became my pattern, which I’ve been faithful to for a long time now.

That isn’t the case for this post (already, given this long intro), but really for another reason.

In every performance that we’ve attended for the past six years, if there was an opening act, the headliner at least acknowledged the opening act, typically thanking him/her/them, and usually requesting another round of applause. Often, the headliner gushes about the opening act. Occasionally, the headliner brings out the opening act to do a number with him/her/them, or surprises the audience by joining the opening act during their stint (Girlyman has done that a few times in our experience).

Last night was the only exception. Colin Hay didn’t acknowledge (or even mention) the opening act, The Paper Raincoat. For that, I will cover their part of the show first, and then cover Colin’s piece. They deserved the mention last night, and still do this morning. I would have preferred for it to come from Colin, who has a wee bit more influence than me, but here goes my take.

We saw Colin Hay live for the first time two weeks ago, at the Birchmere, covered in this post. We both loved the show, Lois in particular. I noticed that he was playing two nights at the Canal Room (4/15 and 16). We weren’t scheduled to return to NYC until the 17th, but Lois got very excited about the prospect of seeing Colin again, in particular in such an intimate venue (we’ve been to Canal Room once before).

He had different opening acts for the two nights. I listened to both on their respective MySpace pages (The Paper Raincoat page is linked above). Both were good, but I particularly liked The Paper Raincoat. While it didn’t hurt that they were the second night (altering our trip a bit less), I really did prefer to hear them live, given the choice.

So, we locked in tickets to see Colin again, influenced by the fact that The Paper Raincoat sounded like a group we would like. We were right!

While there are many differences, I would say that The Paper Raincoat has a similar sound and feel to The Weepies. You won’t confuse the two, but if you like The Weepies (and we do, a lot), then you’ll like The Paper Raincoat.

I encourage you to listen to all of the songs on their MySpace page, and to read the detailed biography there. I’ll highlight one unique (and cool) feature about the band, but they go into much more detail in the biography than they did on the stage last night.

While every one of their songs stands alone musically and lyrically, and is thoroughly enjoyable, unlike other bands, all of their songs combine to tell one long story (basically, a novel, unfolding in a series of songs). The concept is very cool, and can serve as an extra impetus to follow the band long term, if they can keep up the genre and keep the story interesting. It’s also the reason for naming the group The Paper Raincoat (but you’ll have to read the MySpace bio to understand why).

Standing on the stage from left-to-right were:

Amber Rubarth playing electric keyboards and mini xylophone. She sings lead and harmony, and writes/co-writes their material. A very talented lady, who also exudes a ton of warmth on stage.

Amber Rubarth

Amber Rubarth

Alex Wong played the guitar, a tiny electric keyboard, and the mini xylophone. He too sings lead and harmony as well as writes/co-writes their material. He has an excellent voice, with a very self-effacing stage presence.

Alex Wong Mini Xylophone

Alex Wong Mini Xylophone

Alex Wong Mini Keyboard

Alex Wong Mini Keyboard

The two of them comprise The Paper Raincoat. In addition to them, they had a guest drummer.

Adam Christgau played the drums, and sang harmony for much of the set. He’s really good, at both. He also did some unique (to me) things on the drums. On a couple of songs, he covered the snare drum with a towel, achieving a very interesting sound. On one song, he put the towel on the Hi-hat cymbal, also to good effect. Finally, he used a brush drumstick on a frisbee. Really? Yes, a frisbee (or at least, that’s exactly what it looked like to me!).

Adam Christgau

Adam Christgau

On their second-to-last number, they did something very cool. Alex had two tambourines in his hand, and he invited Colin Hay up to the stage to shake one with them. After 10 seconds of waiting (jokingly), he decided to offer the tambourine to an audience member (without the invitation to come up on the stage). The tambourine ended up in Lois’ hands.

While Lois was shaking her heart out (pretty well, if I say so myself), Alex and Amber joined Adam, and all three of them played the one drum set simultaneously. It was really cool (not just because I was sitting the closest to the tambourine player). 😉

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

They finished their set with an a capella number sung by Amber, with Alex and Adam harmonizing, and playing percussion on their chest and legs. In addition to well-timed hand-clapping (for additional rhythm) by each of them, they did some cool cross-person hand clapping, making it a visually interesting song as well.

The Paper Raincoat A Capella

The Paper Raincoat A Capella

They were on stage for a total of 40 minutes, all of it fun and beautifully sounding. To repeat, they deserved more than a mention from Colin. Of course, if he had given it, I probably would have spent less time on them, so perhaps he did my readers a favor, in giving me an excuse to highlight them. 🙂

Colin Hay came out 30 minutes after The Paper Raincoat exited the stage, at 9:22pm.

Colin Hay

Colin Hay

Everything that I said about him at the Birchmere applied last night. He was hysterical, had a great set list, sang amazingly and played the guitar wonderfully. It was an excellent show. I won’t repeat those things. There were a few qualitative differences in the show, so I’ll concentrate on that instead.

At the Birchmere, Colin noticed a kid in the front row (just a few feet over from us), who was likely around eight-years-old. It caused him to catch himself a couple of times when he was about to say something raunchy, or drug related. He still cursed a bit, but you could tell that he was trying not to do it as much as he wanted to (and told the audience that he normally does).

Well, last night, there was nothing holding him back. If you haven’t heard the F-word spoken in a while, you should try to catch a Colin Hay show, so that you can get your fill quickly. It doesn’t bother me whatsoever (Lois isn’t a fan of this type of communication), so I’m just mentioning it in case any future concert-goer cares to know that in advance.

He also told more drug-related stories (mostly pot, not hard drugs). They were very funny, and usually related to the song he was about to sing (as were his stories at the Birchmere). While there were quite a number of repeats in his comedic stories (quite natural for a given tour, and for an introduction to the same song!), there were also a reasonable number of fresh stories, all well told, and all extremely funny. The audience was (once again) eating out of his hand!

The second difference is that at the Birchmere, the entire show was solo. Last night, he had a special guest, his wife, Cecelia Noel. In addition to having her own band, she occasionally performs with Colin, even when his full band is on stage (you can easily find YouTube videos of the full band, with Cecelia on stage too).

She has an excellent voice, and obviously knows the material cold. She dances in pantomime to the lyrics, which we found a bit distracting, but I’m sure that others enjoyed it immensely. Especially the men, since she’s quite beautiful, and her movements are anything by shy and demure. 😉

Cecelia Noel

Cecelia Noel

Colin was able to work her in to some of his gags as well. One small example is his song Beautiful World. There is a line in there “I Like Sleeping With Marie”. At the Birchmere, he sang that line straight. Last night, with Cecelia on the stage (she joined him for roughly 1/3 of the numbers), after singing “I Like Sleeping With Marie”, he smiled at the audience, and added “Not Anymore”, in the pause between lines, very naturally, very good naturedly, and Cecelia played along as well. It was very cute.

The other difference was the venue itself. Birchmere is very large, with very large tables (it’s a place where you eat dinner and watch the show at the same table). It seats 650 people, and Colin sold it out.

Canal Room is a small venue. The only other time we were there, it was set up in a lounge atmosphere, with plush chairs and sofas, quite spread out. In other words, not all that much seating, allowing a capacity of roughly 100 people (I’m just guessing). Last night, it was set up with tiny fold-up chairs (that hurt my butt quite a bit). That permitted a lot more people to sit, and then they crammed in the standing room crowd around the bar, and in every other corner of the place.

My best guess is that there were roughly 300 people there last night. As with the Birchmere, this was not a crowd that wandered in off the street to hear whoever was playing. These were hard-core Colin-loving fans, that knew every word to every song (except perhaps the gorgeous number that he did from his upcoming August release of his new CD). Whenever he invited the audience to sing along, they were only too thrilled to oblige.

Colin was on stage for exactly 105 minutes, all wonderful. He’s a joy to see live, and I’m sure we’ll do it again in the future.

We got to the Canal Room very early on purpose (we were expecting the more limited seating like the first time we were there). The doors opened at 7:30pm, but we arrived at 6:25 to stand patiently outside. It turns out that we were first on line! The bouncer felt bad for us, and actually suggested we go get a bite or a drink at his favorite place around the corner. There was no way Lois was going to miss out getting the best seat in the house, so we just stood there.

I am actually amazed at how quickly the hour passed, and that I didn’t even have a second of physical discomfort for standing in one place for an hour. Whew. I am also extremely impressed with how organized the Canal Room staff are (and how nice they all are as well).

When they opened the doors, we were the first two in, and grabbed the two center seats in the first row. Aside from neck strain in looking up at The Paper Raincoat and Colin Hay all night, the seats were fantastic.

At intermission, Lois bolted out of her seat and bought two copies (both signed) of The Paper Raincoat’s EP (four songs, all of which are on their MySpace page). Before the show started, she also bought Going Somewhere by Colin Hay (she bought two different CDs of his at Birchmere). We intended to hang around and have him sign it after the show. Unfortunately, we were really wiped, so just like Birchmere, we bailed and didn’t say hello to him at either place. Some other time…

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at WaMu

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Longtime readers know that both Lois and I are Alison Krauss fanatics (just look at the title of my post when we saw her at the Beacon Theater). I’m also a long-time big fan of Led Zeppelin, and therefore, by extension, a big fan of Robert Plant. When we heard that they were pairing to produce the Raising Sand album (and now tour), we were excited.

I already wrote a long post about the album and how I finally came to purchase tickets to the show. In that post, I mentioned that the seats were in the seventh row. It turns out that the row was labeled G, but it was the fourth row, since the left side didn’t start at A. 🙂

The seats were awesome. As usual, I’ll give more color to the venue and the crowd in general, after discussing the show itself, including covering the opening act.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss came out at 8:55pm. There was instant electricity in the crowd, and many people gave them a standing ovation as they walked out. They launched into a couple of numbers from the album, and again, I was amazingly underwhelmed. It was certainly interesting (OK, even enjoyable) to see them live, but my heart wasn’t skipping any beats (and in fact, my feet weren’t unconsciously tapping along either).

To be clear, there are no flaws in their performance. They are both fantastic singers, with fantastic stage presence, backed by a pretty amazing band (I’ll cover them individually in a bit). The problem is the material. It’s nice, nothing more. I consider it to be background music. It does nothing to grab or hold my attention, but it sounds pleasant while your mind freely wanders to other thoughts…

Here they all are on stage, just to give you a sense of setting, though they shifted around a bunch throughout the show:

Raising Sand

Then, on either the third or fourth song, one of the band members (Stuart Duncan) started playing solo banjo (yes, banjo), and within a few notes, the crowd recognized it to be the lead (and repeating theme!) from Black Dog, a very famous Led Zeppelin number. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of an iconic rock song being played on the banjo!

Robert then sang the song, in a slow, relaxed style, and it was really cool. Toward the end, it got a little much for me (sorry folks), as the original is so great, and this was more of an interesting play on it, that dragged on a bit for my taste. Here’s Robert singing (not necessarily during Black Dog):

Robert Plant Singing

Robert also had awesome stage presence throughout the show, often acting as a cheerleader for the rest of the band. One of the hallmarks of the Raising Sand sound is both Alison and Robert clapping to the rhythm when they aren’t singing. Here’s a shot of that:

Robert Plant Clapping

Throughout a long show, they did the majority of the new album. They also did a mini-set of Alison singing without Robert, and Alison singing with Robert (and the others) singing background (including Robert standing toward the back of the stage). Here’s a shot of Alison singing:

Alison Krauss Singing

They did a couple of other Led Zeppelin numbers, including a cool (and slowed down) version of Rock and Roll, on which Robert had a great rapport with the crowd.

Both Alison and Robert left the stage for a bit, giving T-Bone Burnett (the producer of the album and the tour) an opportunity to sing lead on two songs with the rest of the band. Those songs were good too (he has a good voice, and a great on-stage persona).

One of the better numbers (again, just my opinion!) was entirely a cappella. Alison started out alone (as she always does on this number), not only singing alone, but the only one on stage. She sang Down to the River to Pray. After a verse (or two), Robert Plant, Stuart Duncan and Buddy Miller slowly walked on stage (reverently), and all shared one microphone to sing backup vocals. This version was way closer to the version on Alison Krauss and Union Station, Live, than it is to the version on O Brother Where Art Thou (where Alison sings with a choir, including many female voices, in a much more up-temp version).

They performed the song flawlessly last night, and the three men all sing great, individually and collectively, and blended with Alison to perfection. Here’s a strange shot of them (due to the lighting), but it’s also kind of cool, because it shows Alison in an ethereal (or ephemeral?) light, with the others singing in the background:

Alison Krauss Down to the River

One of the problems (to me) is that they don’t really know what sound they want. Bluegrass? Check! Rock? Check! Blues? Check! Soul? Check! Cajun? Check! All of the above, simultaneously? Check! Oops, therein lies at least part of the problem.

They finished up the show with Gone Gone Gone. I enjoyed it live, but it’s more fun on the video. Let me cover the band first, then circle back to the encore. Before doing that, here is a shot of the three headliners (Alison, Robert and T-Bone), clearly beaming righting after they finished Gone Gone Gone, rightfully so. The crowd was in a frenzy!

Robert Plant Alison Krauss T-Bone Burnett Beaming

Left-to-right on the stage (not including Alison and Robert) were:

Buddy Miller playing electric guitars, peddle steel guitar, electric mandolins and autoharp. He also has a MySpace page. His fingers literally fly on the guitar. He is a truly great lead guitarist. He has an excellent voice as well. For the first 1/2 of the show, he may have had a problem with his amp, as he wasn’t all that easy to hear, but his fingers were astounding to watch, even then. Then they replaced his amp, and his sound came alive, and he was awesome.

Here’s a shot of Buddy (with Stuart Duncan in the background), followed by a shot of Buddy’s amplifier, being worked on during the show:

Buddy Miller Stuart DuncanBuddy Miller Amp Work

Stuart Duncan played fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, all brilliantly. He sings really well too. Alison Krauss called him “my favorite musician in the whole world”. Wow, quite a compliment. If you read the awards he’s won (linked to his name above), clearly, she wasn’t being sarcastic. Still, even though he is incredible (truly!), that’s quite a statement, especially given who she plays with regularly, Jerry Douglas, Dan Tymninski, Ron Block and Barry Bales.

If Alison Krauss is going to call you her favorite musician, she may as well sing a duet with you:

Stuart Duncan Alison Krauss

Here’s Stuart on the mandolin:

Stuart Duncan Mandolin

Dennis Crouch played the upright bass. He was solid the entire night, but never highlighted. Amazingly, he could be heard (but never too overpowering!) even during the louder Rock numbers. I thoroughly enjoyed his play. Here’s a shot of Dennis:

Dennis Crouch

Jay Bellerose played the drums. I’m quite sure that most of the people in the audience considered Jay’s performance to be awesome. It was certainly impossible to ignore. Jay drums in a reasonably frenetic style. To me, there was nothing wrong with his drumming (meaning, he keeps a good beat, etc.), but he was a little over the top, in particular, in trying to carry the Rock parts. Nothing wrong, just not up to par with some of the drummers we’ve seen recently. Here’s Jay:

Jay Bellerose

T-Bone Burnett played rhythm guitar (and took a rare lead too). He’s certainly fine on the guitar, but I didn’t notice anything special. He sings well, and as mentioned before, has a very nice stage presence. Definitely seems to be enjoying himself on stage, in an infectious way. Robert goes out of his way to credit T-Bone with making this entire project happen. Kudos to him for that! Here he is during his two-song set:

T-Bone Burnett

Back to the encore…

When they left the stage, the entire audience was standing and making a giant ruckus. They were off stage for longer than most bands nowadays, but there was never a doubt that they were coming back! The house lights never came on, and the energy level in the crowd was awesome.

When they came out, it was without Alison. Robert said some beautiful words praising Bo Diddley in noting his passing, and they played a wonderful rendition of Who Do You Love. Alison then joined them and they did at least two more numbers (possibly three), making it a very long and excellent encore.

The show was nearly two hours, including the encore.

My bottom line is that I am very glad we went and I loved the experience. The show itself was choppy for my taste, but at least the worst parts were pleasant. The great parts were excellent, though even those weren’t quite like some of the shows I’ve written about in the past year.

Opening for Robert Plant and Alison Krauss was Sharon Little. She was backed by a five-piece band, including Scot Sax on guitar, who co-writes the songs with Sharon.

Sharon has a very good and powerful voice and the band members are quality musicians. That said, the material didn’t do it for me. Also not unpleasant, even for a second. The sound was repetitious and Sharon over-emoted (to my tastes) quite a number of times, trying to force a feeling down my throat. Whenever she did that (or attempted to switch singing styles into something more bluesy or soulful), her voice was not as clean or nice as it was when she just sang straight up.

They were on stage for exactly 30 minutes, followed by a 23 minute break before Robert and Alison came out.

If you read my previous post (linked above) about the difficulty I had in getting good tickets, then you might be as surprised as I was that the section we were sitting in (which were awesome seats), was relatively empty. The three rows in front of us only had six people (out of 24-28 possible seats) for the opening act, and even during the main show, there were at least 15 empty eats. Only four people were in the front row.

No one sat in front of us during Sharon’s set. But, just as the main event began, a couple sat in front of us. The man was a giant, with a bushy beard and wild curly hair (very much a Mountain Man type). The woman was short. She sat in front of me, and he sat in front of Lois. It was a like a giant eclipse of the sun for Lois…

I begged her to switch seats with me, and she refused. After two songs, I insisted, and forced her to switch. It made all of the difference in the world, as Lois got to see and enjoy the show. That said, the couple were annoying and distracting as hell, but then that’s often par for the course at these type of events.

In other crowd news, a number of people (including two of the people in the front row of our section) gave a standing ovation after every single song. It’s nice to be fans, and I’m sure they truly feel it, but come on, it’s a tad much.

Most of the crowd stood for the entire long encore. Since my view wasn’t blocked, I sat down when they returned to the stage. Lois stood, or she wouldn’t have been able to see. A number of people (including the annoying super fans who sat in front of us) left before seeing even a minute of the encore. It was definitely a long show, so I can understand wanting to beat the crowd (or get home to relieve a baby sitter), but they missed a very nice encore indeed.

WaMu is a very nice theater. The maximum capacity is 5600 people (I would have guessed 2500 seats, so I was way off!). The last (and only) time that Lois and I were there was 23 years ago, when we took our godson (then three years old) to see a Muppets On Tour show. He just graduated medical school. My how time flies… 😉

Finally, we drove in to the city yesterday morning (and back to the house this morning). In between, I had lunch with one of my all-time best friends (we met on our first jobs after graduating college) and worked together at our third job as well, for many years. I haven’t gotten to spend much time with him over the past few years, but my feelings for him have never lessened, he’s just an awesome person in every respect.

So, we had a terrific sushi lunch (my first in a while, which was also a good thing to rectify), and we have promised each other that we won’t let this kind of time elapse between future get together’s. Our third job was at First Boston, but he is not one of the people who attends our semi-regular Boys Night Out dinners. We’re going to rectify that too, and ensure that he joins us on the next one. 🙂

Joan Baez at Paramount Theater

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Last night Lois and I drove 30 minutes to Peekskill, NY to see Joan Baez at the Paramount Theater. How we came to see this show is itself a long story, delivered later in this post.

One of the biggest influences in my teen years was Bob Dylan. Not just the music, but more specifically, the lyrics. They were burned in my mind, even at the age of 13. I learned to play the guitar because of him. Of course, if you were a Dylan fan back then, the odds were pretty high that you were a fan of Joan Baez as well. Not only was I a fan, I was a very big fan!

Lois was preoccupied with extremely challenging life events during those years and didn’t pay attention to either Dylan or Baez beyond general awareness.

The last time I saw Joan Baez live before last night was on November 22nd, 1975 at Brandeis University when she appeared with Dylan as part of The Rolling Thunder Review tour. One of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, including Joan’s amazing performance.

I remembered the year, but had to look up the actual date. 😉

The audience last night was full of people who adore, even revere Joan. You could feel the excitement and anticipation long before she came on stage. When she came out the place erupted with applause. She announced that she would be playing new songs as well as the songs you came to hear. 🙂 She didn’t disappoint in that, playing beautiful new songs that will be on her upcoming album, as well as some of her fantastic hits.

For roughly half the show she was accompanied by her band.

Erik Della Penna played a variety of string instruments, all very well. He also sang harmony with Joan on some of the numbers. It took me a while to warm up to his playing, but in the end, I decided that he was just making sure to defer to Joan and not steal the spotlight. He’s quite accomplished and soulful.

Erik Della Penna

In addition to playing guitar, lap steel guitar and dobro, he also played a square guitar, roughly the size of a mandolin, that I’ve never seen before. Joan called it a Cigar Box Guitar, which I thought was a joke, but there’s a site for them, so it must be true. 😉

Here is a picture of the Cigar Box Guitar, and one of Erik on the Lap Steel Guitar:

Cigar Box GuitarErik Della Penna Lap Steel Guitar

Dean Sharenow played the drums. While he kept perfect rhythm, he was obviously understated (purposely) for this kind of music. I have little doubt that he’s an accomplished drummer, but last night was not the type of show to bring out his talent. He sang vocals on a few numbers as well. Dean and Erik have their own band, separate from their work with Joan, called Kill Henry Sugar.

Dean Sharenow

Michael Duclos played bass. I have recently complained that as much as I have enjoyed numerous bass players over the past year, almost every time, they are simply too loud and overwhelm the rest of the band. Not so last night. Just as with Erik and Dean, both Michael and the sound engineer correctly chose to emphasize Joan, so Michael’s bass was solid the entire night, but significantly in the background, where it belonged.

Michael Duclos

During the first third of the show, when they were all on the stage together, they played most of the new stuff, sprinkled with recent stuff and perhaps two old favorites. She sang Christmas in Washington (from her Bowery Songs CD, released in 2005) written by Steve Earle. Steve is producing her new CD, and has written many of the songs on it. I’ll have more to say about Steve (and Joan) in my other section (now a regular feature in these posts), but for now, here’s a link to a YouTube video of Christmas in Washington with Joan and Steve performing together.

The second (or third) song of the evening was one of the old ones, With God On Our Side (by Bob Dylan). Quite a number of the songs Joan sang last night had God in them (perhaps 50%). Many are cynical about God (the Dylan song for example), but some are deeply spiritual (Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Amazing Grace). It’s an interesting mix, and I’m not clear if she’s attempting to communicate a specific message or not.

After this part of the show was over, the band left the stage leaving Joan on her own. She went into a lot more of her traditional songs here, mostly accompanying herself on the guitar, but with an occasional a cappella song thrown in as well. As good as the parts with the band were, it was more special, magical, to see her perform on her own. She certainly held the crowd in the palm of her hand throughout her solo set.

Among the favorites, she performed her ultra-famous Diamonds In Rust. I already mentioned one of the a cappella numbers above in a different context, Swing Low Sweet Chariot. She encouraged the audience to sing along during various verses of that, and they willingly obliged (I can’t explain it, but I didn’t sing along at all last night, even to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, one of my favorites…).

She played solo for roughly half of the show. The band then returned for a few more numbers, including Dylan’s Love Is Just A Four Letter Word. After saying goodnight, and taking their bows (in a group hug), they returned for a three song encore. After the first two songs, the band left the stage again, and Joan finished the evening with her signature a cappella Amazing Grace, which the crowd belted out with her.

She received a standing ovation before they left the stage the first time, and again at the end of the encore, including the entire audience standing throughout Amazing Grace. Like I said in the intro, she was adored and revered, and the crowd wanted to make sure she knew it. Here’s a photo of everyone singing Amazing Grace with Joan, all the while standing:

Joan Baez Amazing Grace

She was on the stage for a total of 100 minutes including the encore. While we all could have listened to her for hours longer, the show was an appropriate and appreciated length.

Here are a few photos of Joan, with and without guitar. One of the reasons that I’m including a number of similar shots is that the background lighting at the Paramount Theater is very nicely done to set various moods. If you look at some of the other photos included here, you’ll see a variety of scenes and colors, with many more that I am not posting:

Joan BaezJoan Baez 2Joan Baez GuitarJoan Baez Guitar 2

That’s the end of the general review of the evening. As always, I have lots more to say (I know, I have too much to say, always). Some of this is on the negative side, some on the more nostalgic side, and some mere speculation. So, if you don’t know me, or don’t care about my opinions, this is an excellent time to click away…

I recently wrote about a spate of concert cancellations due to illness. In that post, I forgot to mention another cancellation that I had previously written about. We had tickets to see The Mammals at Tarrytown Music Hall (last October I think) and they too canceled a week before the show, but not due to illness I believe.

In the above post, I mentioned that the only cancellation that we did not have tickets to was Joan Baez. There were a number of reasons why we didn’t end up buying tickets in advance to that show, but the primary one was that we were scheduled to be at Zope that week (March 31st). If you read this space regularly, you know that we ran back that weekend to see Girlyman at Joe’s Pub on the 30th, but we did indeed return to VA the very next morning.

We were supposed to be at Zope from last Wed through this week as well, but for the first time in a very long time ended up canceling our own trip (also not due to illness). Once the trip was canceled, I decided to check out the status of Joan’s rescheduled show (exactly two weeks after the postponed one), and lo and behold, there were a reasonable number of tickets left. The original show was sold out, so clearly, some people simply couldn’t make the new date and returned their tickets for a refund.

Lucky for us, unlucky for the original ticket buyers. We got two seats in the 10th row, left orchestra, aisle and one in. Superb seats. The show was scheduled to begin at 7:30pm. We’ve been to the Paramount Theater once before, to see David Bromberg and the Angel Band so we knew the lay of the land, and how long it would take to get there from the house (roughly 30 minutes).

We left at 6:35pm and got to the theater at 7:05pm. The police had the entire block of the theater cordoned off (from every approach). This was quite surprising. I realize Joan Baez is a big star, but David Bromberg also sold out the place (as I’m sure many others do), and he didn’t get similar treatment. Who knows the reasoning, but it wasn’t a good sign.

It turns out that the town (Peekskill) isn’t all that friendly to visitors (tourists). It’s a quaint river town, which should be in the business of attracting tourists and making them feel welcome, but just try to park in any of the dozens of empty spots on the street. Oops, don’t, unless you want a ticket. Signs all over the place saying that you need a permit to park on the street. You’d think that on a night when someone like Joan Baez is in town, they’d put up signs waiving that, but alas, no.

Even the municipal garage has two tiers of parking, one requiring permits, the other meters. Who knew I needed to show up with tons of change in my pocket to attend a local concert. We weren’t thrilled with the entire ordeal, but still made it in plenty of time to pick up our tickets at Will Call and get seated.

At 7:20pm (when we were in our seats), it was obvious that the show would not start on time. The main reason is that the hall was still half empty, with tons of people still hanging around outside. At 7:31 they made the usual announcements, so they were trying to get the show back on schedule, but the house lights were still on, and perhaps 20% of the hall was still unfilled.

At 7:40pm the house lights went off, the crowd went nuts, and Joan came on the stage. There were still quite a number of seats empty, and people were still trickling in, but at least we weren’t waiting for the last person to show up before beginning. Across the aisle from us, in the 10th row center orchestra, there were five empty seats in a row. This fact will become important (to us) shortly.

After each song, the ushers would quickly guide a few more people to their seats. After the third or fourth song (past 7:50pm) the two people who had the seats immediately to Lois’ left squeezed by us. The man proceeded to whip out his Treo, and sat there for at least 10 full minutes with the light shining brightly, working the phone (email, sms, who knows?).

It was annoying the hell out of us. Lois asked if we could move across the aisle. I hate doing that, because I would hate having to move back (in shame, as if we were trying to get away with anything), but it seemed safe at nearly 8pm. It worked out fine, as we darted across the aisle between songs, and weren’t bothered the rest of the night. Why come to a show 20 minutes late, not pay any attention and annoy everyone seated near you? Stay home and use your full computer. We’ll all be happier for it…

I mentioned earlier that I was a huge Joan Baez fan while Lois was less familiar with her stuff. As such, Lois enjoyed the show last night tremendously, having no previous reference point. I thoroughly enjoyed the show as well, but less for musical reasons. There was a tremendous sense of history for me, not just in experiencing Joan live again, but in hearing her tell some very moving stories (she told a few about Martin Luther King, someone she actively marched with and supported in a number of ways!).

Musically, her voice is still excellent, perhaps even better than most touring artists, but it’s really a shadow of what it once was. It’s likely that this is a temporary anomaly, caused by her recent illness (forcing the previous cancellation), as she specifically said that she had lost her voice, regained part of it, then regained some more. She didn’t put a timeline on that though, so it might have had nothing to do with the illness, and she might not be regaining any more, even if she gets healthier.

The good news is that she’s well aware of the changes in her voice, and even joked about it (in the middle of a song!). She no longer tries to hit certain notes, simplifying the vocal arrangement of some of the more challenging songs. I have no problem with that, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a little sad and disappointing. She also lost her place a number of times on the lyrics, laughed it off and continued on very professionally in each case. She joked about that too, quite cleverly, so last night clearly wasn’t the first time that’s happened to her.

I’m truly hoping (for her sake, and for her fans’ sake) that her voice will get stronger as she gets better (assuming she hasn’t fully recovered). The most striking thing to me is not that her voice isn’t clear, or gorgeous (it is!), but rather that she seems apprehensive about pushing her voice, even though at times during the night, when she did, she was able to hit the note, or deliver the power that she was looking for.

Joan is 67 years old. To me, she looks much older, and seems a bit on the frail side. If you look at the YouTube video that I linked above, of Christmas in Washington, which was filmed less than four years ago, she looked 20 years younger (to me). While she is as graceful and lovely as you could wish, I couldn’t help feeling badly that age (or health) is catching up with her more quickly than her young years deserve.

Of course, you can listen to her CDs to hear the difference in the strength and range of her voice. Still, it’s possible that even that is due to the wonders of a recording studio rather than the rawness of a live performance. So, through the magic of the Internet, if you’re interested, you can hear Joan do a number of songs (most of which she performed last night!) from the last concert from The Rolling Thunder Review, taped at Madison Square Garden on December 8th, 1975!

You have to register to hear it, but it’s free, and the sound quality is excellent! Her voice back then, in a live performance, is not even comparable to her voice last night, even though it was delightful to listen to her last night as well! Here’s the link to the 1975 concert. Click on PLAY THIS CONCERT under the image of the ticket stub to start the stream.

Here’s a cute story, and one which is relevant to our Girlyman experiences as well. If you listened to the above concert, you may have noticed that Joan complains (in a British accent!) that she needed help tuning her guitar! Last night, she joked that she used to have trouble tuning her guitar, but now they have these devices that help you tune them. So now she has trouble tuning her guitars, with the help of the new devices. 😉

Until recently, I didn’t have a clue as to why all of the guitarists looked down at the stage while they tuned. More interesting was that I didn’t understand how they could hear what they were tuning, as there was often other stuff going on at the time (If you’ve ever seen Nate in action while the Girlyman ladies tune, you’d understand). 😉 Well, the device must show red and green lights for each string in tune or not (my guess, but I’d be surprised if I were way off).

Anyway, here’s a picture of her tuning last night. 🙂

Joan Baez Tuning

I can’t resist sharing this photo. To me, Joan seems to be channeling Hillary Clinton:

Joan Baez Channels Hillary Clinton

Finally, politics. If you read this space, you know how I feel about politics mixing with entertainment. Perhaps that was an unconscious reason why I didn’t rush to buy tickets the first time around. There was no doubt in my mind that Joan (being a life-long activist) would definitely be political during the show. In the end, I decided that I was willing to sit through it for any number of reasons, including that she’s such a spiritually deep and caring woman, that it would unlikely be a hate-filled lecture. I was right, sort-of.

As for speech making, she only made two politically-oriented ones during the evening. The first was to say that George Bush was her personal PR machine. With him in the White House, her kind of music was in demand (not necessarily her exact words, but pretty close). If true, I wonder whether her career will come to a grinding halt if/when Obama takes the White House.

The second was a rousing endorsement of Obama himself. Her exact words were “Wait until we have a statesman back in the White House!” Okey dokey then, I guess we’ll see… Like I said above, it didn’t annoy me (though it could have, had I not anticipated it completely). As opposed to the anger with which most entertainers deliver their anti-Bush rhetoric, Joan is soft-spoken, gentle, and just trying to make a point…

That brings me to the music itself. Certainly, Dylan’s music had it’s fair share of anti-war songs (including the one she played early on). However, since she teamed up with Steve Earle years ago, she has plenty more fodder for that now. Steve is a wonderful songwriter, both lyrics and music, but he’s a very angry liberal at heart. Listen carefully to the words of Christmas in Washington in the video, or read the words here.

It’s a Bush hater’s anthem. That said, it’s delivered in a soft song, with beautiful music, and powerful lyrics (whether misguided or not!). I much prefer to get my political drubbing that way. At least it comes without the crowd whooping it up during the message and is thought provoking. So thought provoking that I am choosing to propagate his message so that you can decide for yourself whether you agree or not.

Here’s another song that’s beautiful, message laden, but a tad too vague or complicated for me (message-wise). It’s called Jerusalem, and is also by Steve Earle. Here’s a YouTube video of Joan singing it (with Erik Dell Penna) in Austria in 2007. You can read the lyrics here. It’s possible (I really hope even likely!) that this is a generic plea for peace on all sides of the Middle East conflict, or even all war in general (after all, lots of us are descendants of Abraham, not just Jews).

Unfortunately, I fear that this isn’t the true intent of the song, and he certainly doesn’t make any attempt to communicate more clearly. To me, it comes across like Jews/Israelis are the only aggressors in this ongoing conflict, and if only they could learn to lay down their swords, we’d all be better off. I realize that this is a defensive reaction, and I realize that many people have no sympathy for any Jew, and tons of sympathy for every Palestinian, but to blame this all on the Israelis/Jews is at best naive, and at worst disingenuous.

I know I’m not alone in my reaction/interpretation, as the current first comment on the video linked above (might not be the first one when you click on it!) is:

Ah Joan, I love this song. Let’s hope that Israel will be able to lay down its swords forever when that country feels safe from attacks on all surrounding Arab countries.

All-in-all, a very enjoyable as well as thought provoking evening. I reiterate my hope that Joan is still recovering and will get stronger soon. We’d see her again, I’m sure, at least to have a better sense of her well being.

Girlyman was already mentioned in a roundabout context above. Here is a very direct one! In 2003, Girlyman won the folk/singer-songwriter category in the 3rd Annual Independent Music Awards. One of the judges in that competition was none other than Joan Baez! 🙂

So, having mentioned Girlyman in a real context now, let’s jump to a different context. You know what’s coming, but this is even more important for those of you who don’t know! We’re half-way through the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest. Enter now to win a free signed copy of the new Girlyman Live CD!

Vienna Boys Choir

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As I’ve mentioned at least twice, we have company this weekend. We like to do things that the visitors would enjoy whenever possible. Sometimes, we have to guess. Other times, we get lucky and get specific requests.

Yesterday was one of the lucky times. A few weeks in advance, they let us know that they would love to see the Vienna Boys Choir at Carnegie Hall. The show was listed on the Carnegie Hall site, but the tickets were not yet on sale.

Amazingly, calling the box office yielded no further information. They had no idea when the tickets would go on sale. How can that possibly be?

Anyway, I checked every single day. Roughly a week later, the tickets were finally available online. We got five tickets in the Parquet (which is like the first mezzanine). Each entrance has a private coat closet and eight seats. We were slightly to the left of center stage, and everything about the seats was excellent (location, comfort, etc.).

There were 24 boys on stage, plus one adult choirmaster who also accompanied the boys on a grand piano. The boys sing beautifully, no doubt. That said, since they all sing in alto ranges, whenever they were accompanied by the piano (he was a superb pianist!), they were somewhat drowned out.

Thankfully, roughly half of the performance was a cappella, and they truly amazed when performing without the piano.

The performance was split into two sets. Before the intermission, there was a slant toward more operatic style music. Some of the selection didn’t seem to match their skills. The second set was heavily oriented toward Christmas Carols (multiple languages), and all were delightful. The carols connected deeply with the audience, and you could viscerally feel the reaction after each one.

All-in-all, a very delightful afternoon doing something we would likely not have thought to do were it not for the suggestion of our friends.

Thanks! 🙂

Treble at Joes Pub

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When we saw Charlie Daniels Band on Saturday, October 20th, 2007 at BB King, I noticed that the following Sunday (8 days later), a group called California Guitar Trio (CGT) would be playing at BB’s. I didn’t link any of the above, because this posting isn’t really about any of them, but they’re responsible for this post… 🙂

I had never heard about CGT, so I looked them up on the web, and listened to some samples. They reminded me a lot of Acoustic Alchemy (my favorite Jazz group), so I had an interest in seeing them live. That said, we were planning on coming up to the house for the weekend, after finishing up our long-lost friends week.

I mentioned this to Lois, and she suggested that we get the tickets, and either spend the weekend in NYC, or come in and return on Sunday. I was reluctant, but Lois pressed me to get the tickets. So, when we walked to Wicked on Tuesday, we stopped in at BB King’s, and bought tickets for Sunday night.

The next day, Lois firmly decided that we would spend the weekend in NYC. Once that was decided, I remembered that I noticed something intriguing in the Joe’s Pub newsletter. They had a Sunday Brunch concert with an all-female a cappella group named Treble. While we were waiting on line to see Kathy Mattea the next day, I ran in and bought two tickets to see Treble for Sunday at noon.

This was our first time for brunch at Joe’s Pub. They do a very nice job, as they do for dinner as well. We each had different paninis, and both enjoyed them.

Finally, the music. Treble is nine women who sing a cappella. They rotate the lead singer in most songs. The remaining women either harmonize (on occasion) with the lead, or create sounds that mimic different instruments (including drums, bass, horns, cymbals, etc.).

They are very talented. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. That said, we were left feeling that they could be so much more than they actually are. There are a number of problems (all in our opinion, obviously):

  • They are too egalitarian. While they all sing very well, a number of them are simply not lead material. It’s socially nice that they give each of them a whirl at the mic, but in the end, they aren’t doing the group a favor.
  • Their selection for the performance could stand improvement. I’ll have a little more to say on this subject below.
  • Their arrangements could also stand some improvement in a number of cases. This is highly related to the next point, which is perhaps the most important complaint (of ours).
  • They spend way too much energy (and talent!) mimicking instruments (in particular drums and cymbals). There is way too little actual harmony, for such talented a group of singers, and so many of them to boot!

Backing up for a second, Joe’s Pub was somewhere between 1/2 to 2/3’s full. We were both reasonably impressed that a group like this could draw that much of a crowd (even though Joe’s is a very small venue) on a Sunday at noon. That said, we had the overwhelming sense that we were either the only, or two of a handful of people who weren’t specifically friends or family of the members of the group.

We had no problem with that, but we’re pointing it out to say that it would have been really hard for a group like this to get a nice-sized crowd for a Sunday brunch concert.

We weren’t going to buy their CD (which they were selling there) for a few reasons which I won’t mention. But, there was one song that they did, Time, which simply blew us away. It turns out that it’s a song by Chantal Kreviazuk. We didn’t know that until we looked it up today. Lois went up to talk to the person selling the CD, and in the end, decided to buy it.

We’re very glad we did. In addition to a stunning recording of Time, there are a number of nice tracks on the CD that they didn’t do in the live show. That’s one of the reasons that I mentioned that their selection wasn’t that great at the show, clearly, they have better material.

Basically, they need to decide what they want to be when they grow up. 😉

This time, the Girlyman reference will be really easy to work in. They should pay Doris Muramatsu whatever she would demand in order to create harmonies for them. She’s a certifiable genius, and we can’t even imagine what she could do with more than the three voices that she arranges with Girlyman. It’s OK if on occasion, they show off their ability to mimic instruments, but if they highlighted their harmonies, they could be something extremely special!

I’m too lazy to listen to them all now (sorry), but there is one song on the album that has very little instrumentation and it’s very beautiful.

At the other end of the spectrum, if they don’t want specialized harmonies, they should spend a lot of time listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and go for that kind of sound. Both Doris and the Choir came to my mind while I was listening to Treble.

While driving home late last night, Lois says to me (unprompted): “You know, Treble should hire Doris to write their harmonies for them!”. I told her that I already intended to write that, and that she was stealing my line. To which she replied: “Or, they should study the Mormon Tabernacle Choir!”. Ouch, we are way too similar. Frightening actually…

So, if you like a cappella, and perhaps even enjoy the mimicking of instruments with human voices, you should really enjoy their CD immensely. We’re glad we saw them, and glad we bought the CD, but really hope that they decide to become more professional and make it as a result.

Finally, one of the better songs that they performed was Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd (it’s not on the album). This will only become slightly interesting if you read my next post on CGT. 😉