Abby Ahmad

Bryan Dunn CD Release at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Bryan Dunn headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. It was his official CD Release show for Sweetheart of the Music Hall. Three weeks ago I did something I rarely do, I reviewed a CD. It happened to be Brian’s CD.

BryanDunn

Before you read another word about the show, go buy the CD (if you don’t trust me blindly, you can stream it at that link for free, but then buy it).

If you read my review, I hope you took two things from it:

  • Bryan is a masterful lyricist
  • He delivers unfooled-around-with rock

I’d like to add something that I didn’t really mention in the review (and should have!). Bryan has an excellent voice. I don’t know why, but last night I realized that it strikes me as extremely reminiscent of Paul McCartney (someone slap me if it reminds them more of John Lennon, but the point is that it brings me back to some of my earliest memories of loving The Beatles).

BryanDunnSinging

(Off topic: Bryan’s previous CD, Vicious Waltz is also fantastic, I’ve enjoyed it many times, and am listening to it again now as I type!)

All of the above was totally evident last night. The rock was hard-charging and driving throughout. Even the zombies couldn’t resist a little hip swaying (something they typically have trouble doing). Reproducing the sound/feel of this CD on stage is no small feat, but Bryan, along with an incredible band (including a number of special guests) were more than up to the task.

Bryan played both electric and acoustic guitars and generally thrilled the crowd on vocals and mainly unfinished sentences in between songs.

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The set was absolutely fantastic, we were both still buzzing about it this morning. I’m going to cover each of the core band members first, then the special guests, then a summary of how we discovered Bryan to begin with.

But wait, one not-so-quick aside before doing what I just said I would do. Bryan opened the show with the title cut, Sweetheart of the Music Hall. If you followed my instructions above, and bought the CD before reading this, then you know that there’s a wonderful trumpet lead on that number.

Before playing the song, Bryan called out for Tony Maceli a few times (ending with: “Going once, going twice, gone…”) before starting the song. Someone called out from the audience to say that Tony just texted him to say he was almost there, but the song had just started.

Most of you know that when I write about Tony, it’s almost always about his amazing bass play (both electric and upright). But, if you are addicted to this space and read everything I write, then you know that I’ve also written a couple of times that he’s played the trumpet and even guitar.

Tony was supposed to play the trumpet on Sweetheart of the Music Hall. Obviously, he didn’t. Tony walked in right at the end of the second song, peeked at the set list on stage and noticed that he missed his song.

Do you want to know what my definition of class is? It’s Tony Maceli. Instead of sulking, he watched the entire set, applauded loudly for each number and performer, and put money in the tip jar when it came around (in fact, he was the first to toss money in).

TonyMaceli

Now the band, left-to-right on stage:

Joe Brent on mandolin and acoustic guitar (perhaps more, but I was in a bad vantage point to see him for much of the set). Joe came up on the second number and played on all but one after that. Joe plays on the CD too, so it was great to hear that sound live as well. The mandolin is one of the reasons I said that some of the songs have a Country Rock tinge. Joe’s great (as I find myself repeating a lot lately) and I really enjoyed his play last night.

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On one number he sat at the electronic keyboards and I thought I was about to hear him on yet another instrument. But, I think he was just resting for a minute. Ah, just looked through Lois’ photos, and it does indeed looked like I missed Joe doing something on the keyboards!

JoeBrentKeyboards

Ah, no I see from the photos that Joe also played the banjo. Thank goodness Lois documented all of this for me!

JoeBrentBanjo

Wait, what’s this? A Guitolin? Manduitar? Who knows. It’s very cute though. Winking smile

ManduitarCloseup

Ryan Vaughn on percussion and drums. Ryan is always great and was at the top of his game last night. He was the primary percussionist last night. That included a floor tom and cymbals as part of his bag of tricks, so it was quite a full sound. In the middle of the set, he moved over the to the full drum kit and ripped it to pieces (that’s a good thing, he didn’t take a knife to the drum kit).

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Drew McKeon on drums and percussion. Drew was the primary drummer last night and he was fantastic (my first time seeing him). When Ryan switched to the drums, Drew took over Ryan’s percussion station and was just as good on that. The two of them created the driving beats that I mentioned above, forcing every cell in your body to want to shake it a baby (sorry, couldn’t resist another Beatles reference).

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I’ve written a number of times about wanting multiple drummers on stage at the same time (like The Allman Brothers Band perfects) and last night was a completely satisfactory version of that!

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Jim McNamara on upright bass. This was our third time seeing Jim on bass (the first time was our first Bryan Dunn sighting) and he has impressed every time. I would like to see more of him, so I’ll have to see what I have to do to make that happen.

JimMcNamara

Jeremy Goldsmith on lead electric guitar and vocals. Like with Jim, this was our third time seeing Jeremy. While he was great both previous times, I have to say that neither showcased his skills like last night’s set did. A quick digression first.

JeremyGoldsmith

Bryan Dunn is quite the guitarist himself. In fact, half of the times that we’ve seen Bryan, were as the lead guitarist for Jeff Litman, where has been excellent each time. Whenever I see someone who is a great guitarist pick someone else to be the guitar player for them, I know I’m going to see someone special on the guitar, as the guy doing the picking clearly knows what sound he wants and who can deliver it.

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Back to Jeremy. Holy cow, he was great on every number, but on a few he let loose with leads that were faster than greased lightning, but still clear as a bell and smooth. I was surprised that my ears could keep up with his fingers.

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Jeremy sang quite a big of background vocals, extremely well, including three-part harmony with the guests. He was already firmly on my list of people to see whenever I could, but he jumped up a few spots last night. Smile

JimMcNamaraJeremyGoldsmith

Now the special guests, in the order they appeared (song-wise, not position on stage):

Misty Boyce played keyboards on two numbers, including opening the show on Sweetheart of the Music Hall. I don’t know her own music at all, but I’m a huge fan from the previous guest appearances I’ve seen (most recently, at Tony Maceli’s Full Vinyl show). I’m going to do whatever is in my power to correct my lack of knowledge of her own music next Sunday night, 4/15, when she has a set at Rockwood 1 at 10pm. She’s part of a set tonight at 8pm, but I don’t believe I will be there, nor do I know if that’s her music either.

MistyBoyce

Abby Ahmad sang with Bryan on at least three numbers. I’ve been writing about Abby a lot recently. She’s a great singer and songwriter as well (fronting at least two bands that I’m aware of). She has the power to keep up with last night’s sound and was well matched with Bryan. For all the times that I’ve written about her, I hadn’t met her until Lois introduced herself last night and then grabbed me to say hi too. Smile

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Andy Mac on vocals and tambourine. Andy did a great job of singing harmony with Bryan on one number, then was invited back for the finale with lots of others. Ryan Vaughn handed Andy a tambourine to keep him amused. He did a wonderful job of keeping us entertained on it as well.

AndyMacAndyMacTambourine

Chris Cubeta joined to play the harmonium on one number (I told you this was straight up rock, right? so of course there had to be a harmonium Winking smile ). Chris produced this CD, which I’ve already told you is a masterpiece. I’ve only seen Chris perform once before, also at Tony’s Full Vinyl show.

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Mark Marshall joined for the finale, grabbing Bryan’s electric guitar, while Bryan played the acoustic. I’ve mentioned a number of times how good Mark is on the electric. Last night, right after Jeremy totally blew my mind (for the final time, during the finale), Mark took an awesome lead as well. Considering that was on someone else’s guitar, it was all the more impressive.

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DJ Brik Mason joined for the last number as well. He sang harmony in the beginning, but then Bryan turned it over to Brik for a full-on rap. After rapping, he urged the crowd on after each verse, in a rap-like bridge. It fit in perfectly with the song and kept the energy way up for an already high-energy show.

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BrikMasonUrgingCrowdBrikMasonBryanDunnDrewMcKeonMarkMarshallAndyMac

One more shot of the finale:

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Well, the finale wasn’t the final song, of course, Bryan had to take an encore. The previously mentioned people left the stage, but Misty returned to the keyboards to help Bryan close out the show, along with the core band.

To repeat, the CD is great, the show delivered that feeling better than we could have expected. What a night.

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Unfortunately for you, if you’re one of those people who have to read all the way to the end, this post isn’t quite over yet.

Lois and I have a huge overlap in the music we love, but we also have tastes that diverge. For most people/groups, one of us is typically a bigger fan (sometimes very slightly). In Bryan’s case, we’re equally fanatic. As I’ve mentioned in two previous posts, Lois listened to the new CD before I did, and was bugging me by calling out lyrics non-stop while I was blogging about Jesse Terry’s show (which was where we bought the CD from Bryan).

She chided me for not including one particular lyric in my CD review. Thankfully, I can appease her now by inserting it here. When she listened to 6 Black Horses (probably her favorite song on the CD), she quoted from the song:

The poet and the pauper, it’s all the same to him
Spend hours in the raging while the lights are growing dim

Lois was struck by the ode to Dylan Thomas. There’s also a reference to The Parting Glass in that song. So struck, that she reached out to Bryan to ask if it was purposeful. It was indeed!

Circling back to the beginning. I’ve mentioned many times that we often serendipitously discover someone because we show up to an earlier set in order to grab a seat, or catch a set between two that we came out for.

Such was the case two years and two weeks ago, when we came early and caught Bryan doing a full set. We were both really impressed. Since then we’ve seen Bryan do a few of his own songs here and there, at a Backscratch and at a few benefits, but mostly, we’ve seen him support Jeff Litman.

Amazingly, it took two years to see him play a full set again. At least the wait was more than worth it!

And, the obligatory (in the best sense!) photos of people we shared the spirit with:

MalloryChrisKellyTonyMaceliTerry

PartialCrowdShot

SamTeichman

Leave a Lasting Mark Soul Benefit The Bitter End

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Leave a Lasting Mark is a benefit concert series conceived and produced by Sam Teichman. We’ve been to a number of them, but have sadly missed some of the more spectacular ones (or so a number of people have told us). Our very first one was a Soul Revue (just like last night) 14 months ago. You can read about it, though it’s super long, as this one is likely to be as well. This one was also held at The Bitter End.

SamTeichmanMC

Instead of expecting you to read that long post, let me just pull out a single paragraph that I wrote about Sam right up front:

First and foremost, I need to bow to Sam Teichman (@samteichman on Twitter) as deeply and humbly as I can. Sam is a perfect example of one person, single-mindedly focused on getting something done and achieving that goal (actually, exceeding it). On November 4th, 2010, Sam sat next to me at Rockwood Music Hall as we enjoyed sets by Jesse Ruben and Alex Wong. Even on that night, Sam was doing for others, as I noted across three paragraphs toward the end of my post about that show.

I highly encourage you to read the next two paragraph from that post, but I’ll leave it to you to click through if you’re interested.

SamTeichman

These benefit shows are really important to attend (in particular if you’re a music lover) for a number of reasons. First, you’re contributing to charity (100% of the entrance price goes to whatever charity is being supported at that show). Last night’s charity was Foundation Fighting Blindness, specifically targeted for their Vision Walk 2012 initiative later this month. Seems like a good enough reason to attend the show.

Second, you have an opportunity to discover local musicians that you otherwise might never hear about. Every one of them donates their time to perform in these shows. Sam does a great job of paying them by constantly reminding the audience that they create their own music (often inspired by the people they’re covering at these shows!) and that we should all make it our business to follow up and check out their own sites and music.

That’s been true for me, starting back at my first Leave a Lasting Mark (LALM) show and solidly continuing last night. I’m going to follow the format I used for that first Soul Revue. I’ll group all of the sidemen (yes, there was a sidewoman as well) by instrument, first. I’ll skip mentioning the backup singers, because each of them took a turn singing a song on lead. Then I’ll cover each of the lead singers, in the order they appeared.

The real point will be for me to call out a few people I’ve never seen before, some of whom completely blew me away (repeating a trend that’s happened at each of the LALM shows).

Apologies for the varying qualities of the photos. Tons of people on stage, often obscured or very far away. So many of the lead performers were constantly moving, so it was tough to catch them in focus, or with un-passionate expressions. This is the best our little compact camera could do.

The brass section was up for nearly every song (not every person was up on every number that included brass). They performed yeoman duty and I imagine most are resting their lips and lungs today.

Ian Schaefer on trumpet, Mitch Marcus on sax and clarinet, Chris Hiatt on sax (@chrishiatt1, no good individual link), John Liotta on sax (also no good link), Steven Salcedo on sax.

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Ian took a number of trumpet leads (in particular on I Just Want to Make Love to You and This Little Light) that were awesome. We typically see John Liotta light up a baritone sax with the Greg Mayo band. Last night he lit up a tenor sax equally well. Mitch, Chris and Steven were amazing too, in any combination that happened to be on stage for a given song.

IanSchaeferTrumpetIanSchaeferChrisHiattJohnLiottaMitchMarcusClarinet

Sarah Stern joined for one number, late in the show, on the flute (I couldn’t find a good link). Delightful! She’s (possibly) the only person who didn’t make it on to the program. She stood with the brass section. This was our first time seeing Sarah.

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Bass players: Chris Kelly, Justin Goldner, James Preston (how can you not fall in love with someone whose middle name is Peanutbutter?), Jeff Litman and Sean Murphy. We’ve seen Chris, Justin and Jeff many times (they’re always great). In fact, we discovered Jeff at that first Soul Revue, and Chris and Justin at a LALM benefit featuring the songs of James Taylor and Carole King. This was our first time seeing James and Sean, probably not our last.

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One more of James Peanutbutter Preston:

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The first time I saw Jeff I really liked his bass play. But, it was after reading one of his blogs that I really started paying attention to him as a person, then discovered that he’s an excellent singer/songwriter and musician (guitar is his primary instrument for his own brand of rock). He just released a new CD, Outside, get it, and get his previous one, Postscript.

I note how I discovered Jeff because he just put up a new blog post this morning (or at least tweeted about it today) and it’s another amazing piece. So well considered and written. I learn from Jeff, both in his writing and in his music. Both Lois and I agree 100% with Jeff’s thesis in this post (at least with regards to the part about the MET, the music can be a little more nuanced IMHO).

Drummers: Justin Hofmann, Stephen Chopek, Alex Cohen, Mason Ingram and Matt Arbeiter (still no good link). Justin and Alex were new to us (both excellent). Stephen always delivers, as do Mason and Matt. Matt is another that we first discovered at a LALM show (the James Taylor / Carole King one).

JustinHofmannStephenChopekDrumsAlexCohen

MasonIngramMattArbeiter

Guitarists: Mark Marshall, Mike Bell (no good individual link, but here’s a link to a band he’s in, BELT Band), Jeremiah Birnbaum (also sang lead), Joe Brent, Hudson Mueller (also sang co-lead). Mike and Hudson were new to us. We’ve seen Joe once before, but not on guitar. Late in the show, Joe also joined on two numbers playing the fiddle. He’s a major talent, whatever instrument he touches.

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Keyboards (grand piano and electronic): Megan Cox, Scott Chasolen, Nick Semrad (also sang lead), Kenneth Harris (also sang lead), Scott Stein (also sang lead). A first for us seeing Nick and Kenneth. In addition to playing the keyboards wonderfully on every number, each sang lead from the piano, so more on them later.

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KennethHarrisSingingScottSteinKeyboards

Scott Chasolen is a great pianist and proved it again last night. He has an excellent voice, but wasn’t one of last night’s leads.

Scott Stein is also great on the keyboards. More on his lead performance below.

We’ve seen Megan play fiddle, when we first discovered her at the first Soul Revue. This was our first time seeing her on the keyboards (very nice!). I lied above when I said all of the background singers sang lead. Megan sang background but didn’t sing lead. Sam told me this morning that Megan was scheduled to sing lead, but came down with a bad cold and couldn’t do it. What a trooper for playing the keyboards and singing background even though she wasn’t feeling well!

CrystalDurantMeganCoxSingingBackground

One last piece of reporting before moving on to the lead singers. The show was broken up into smaller sets to keep the transitions among musicians to a minimum. Each set had a Musical Director (M.D., as you’ll see below). Here’s is the order that they appeared on stage:

Mark Marshall, Justin Goldner, James Preston, Joe Brent and Scott Stein. Considering that there was only a single, five-hour rehearsal for everyone to come together, each of the M.D.’s deserves a huge round of applause (as do each of the musicians!).

Finally, the divas, both male and female. Winking smile

Chrissi Poland opened the show. Such a powerful voice. She’s currently raising money to record a new EP. Check out Chrissi’s music and help if you like it (and can afford to, obviously).

ChrissiPoland

Terry Brennan (no good individual link, but he’s in BELT Band with a couple of the other performers from last night!). I’ve seen Terry in the audience at a number of shows, but never knew his name, or that he was a performer himself. His voice was great last night, so now I know and can again count on LALM for introducing me to new talented people.

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Abby Ahmad put on yet another passionate performance.

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Martin Rivas was the only singer to sing two songs. In addition to killing it with a full band, he returned later to do the only solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

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Stephanie White’s vocals soared above the music. Incredible power with a laser-like precision. Stephanie was supposed to sing another song late in the set. The entire program ran over by 20 minutes, and Stephanie’s second number was an unfortunate casualty, getting cut at the last minute. You can catch Stephanie as part of Philth Harmonic (a band she’s in with Robbie LaFalce).

StephanieWhite

Crystal Durant is another person we discovered at a LALM show (The Blues Bothers tribute). What a wonderful voice, both lead and background vocals.

CrystalDurant

Jared Saltiel was another first for us. He was impressive, but I’m actually liking the music on his site even more, so click the link and check him out. Smile

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Eva Alexander was also new for us. We were both extremely impressed with her voice.

EvaAlexander

Abby Payne is someone we’re very familiar with. In fact, I’ve written (glowingly) about her a number of times in the past few weeks. So, you’d think she couldn’t really surprise me, especially in an extremely positive way. Wrong. Backtracking for a bit. Abby is yet another performer that we discovered at the first Soul Revue. Here’s what I wrote about her lead singing that night:

Abby Payne did a very nice job (yes, the same Abby who nailed the piano parts!). The only issue is that it took Abby a bit to crank up the volume on her voice, which was necessary because she (and all of them) were competing with tons of instruments and other vocalists. Abby had an all-male backup singing contingent.

Note that my only complaint was that her voice didn’t soar above the music. Holy moly, last night Abby delivered all of the power, passion and clarity you could want in a voice that was clearly soaring above a stage full of awesome musicians. I was already a big Abby fan, but it seems that my fandom can grow.

AbbyPayne

Speaking of being a fan of Abby, please help her make a new CD (pretty please?). Nine days left as I write this. I have faith in all of you. Smile

Jeremiah Birnbaum did a wonderful job on his lead song, in addition to all of his guitar play and background singing throughout the set.

JeremiahBirnbaumJeremiahBirnbaumSinging

Nick Semrad was new to us. During the set that he played keyboards, he also sang lead on one song, very impressively.

NickSemradSinging

Ashley Lehmann sang (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, perhaps the best known song of the night (though there were a ton of real soul fans, who likely knew every song just as well as this one).

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Dani Tersini was awesome, hard to describe it any other way. Also new to us, but won’t be a stranger going forward. Her red dress seemed perfectly appropriate for her song, I Just Want to Make Love to You. Winking smile

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Scott Wolfson yet another first for us. I liked his voice a lot, and he did a fine job on his number, but I’m guessing that I’ll like his own shows even more.

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Maddy Wyatt was an extremely nice surprise for me. I was very impressed by her the only other time I’ve seen her, supporting Jeff Litman. That night she sang a ton of harmony (beautifully, but quite mellow) and played the flute (also beautifully). To see her come out and belt out a soul number with the full band was not what I expected. Oh yeah, she also accompanied herself on the acoustic guitar. Very nicely done, both vocals and guitar!

MaddyWyatt

Akie Bermiss continued the hit parade of firsters who did a marvelous job, with Crystal Durant doing heavy duty harmony with him. Akie is part of a band called Aabaraki (who we haven’t seen). You can stream and buy their album.

AkieBermiss

Alec Gross has to be put in the same camp as I put Abby Payne earlier. I’m a fan, and I’ve enjoyed his sets before. But, I think of him as a fairly mellow folk singer. Not last night. He lit it up, completely. Very impressed.

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Andy Mac is someone we’ve seen do one full set before, plus one song at the James Taylor / Carole King benefit. He cranked it up a couple of notches last night and really delivered. He also played acoustic guitar, both while singing lead, and supporting Ashley Lehmann.

AndyMac

Bri Arden sang This Little Light. Ha, I fooled you, because I said sang, like that’s what Bri did. If you read this space regularly, you know Bri is the subject of a lot of posts. That’s because she’s always awesome. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she took this song and created a soaring vocal masterpiece. Seriously, it is not possible to describe it in words. You’ll have to wait until Sam uploads the individual videos (which he will do) to see a poor reproduction of what we were all treated to live!

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Above, I showed a picture of Crystal Durant and Megan Cox singing background. That was on Bri’s song. Dani Tersini and Ahsley Lehmann also sang background during this song:

DaniTersiniAshleyLehmannSingingBackground

Brian Collazo is another one of our favorites, any time, any place. While there’s no good individual link to him, he’s best known for fronting the incredible band, Live Society. Brian was extraordinary when he sang lead, as he was on the numbers he sang background. That we couldn’t keep our eyes open to see him sing with Martin Rivas at Slane right after this show is something we’ll regret until we get to see him again (soon, I hope!).

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Brian also sang background on a number of songs. On this one, he was part of an all male contingent:

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Here’s he was standing in front of the brass section:

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Kenneth Harris sang lead on one song, in addition to playing keyboards on one of the mini-sets. He was awesome. This was a first time for us seeing him, definitely not the last. By the time he sang lead, he didn’t surprise me. When Brian Collazo sang lead (the song before), Kenneth sang primary harmony with him and he was absolutely amazing on that number. Keeping up with Brian is no small feat, and Kenneth was definitely up to the task.

KennethHarris

Scott Stein came to center stage to sing his lead, after playing keyboards for the remainder of the mini-set. Excellent, on both the keys and on lead vocals!

ScottSteinSinging

Evan Felts and Hudson Mueller (of The Gold Magnolias) shared lead vocals, with Evan doing most of the singing. Both new to us, both impressive. Evan did a classic soul dance throughout (a la James Brown himself). He had the crowd completely worked up in a lather. Tons of energy, great vocals.

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Grace McLean was the final newcomer to us. Grace performed perhaps the second most famous song (to me at least), Chain of Fools. Let’s see if I can be succinct in describing her: Wow! (OK, that was succinct, but not sufficient, how about: Holy Wow, Unreal!, yes, that’s better).

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Closing out the show was someone who we also discovered during that first LALM Soul Revue. He blew us away that night, and topped it last night. He had a gig of his own earlier that evening and rushed over to close out this one.

Jay Stolar stolar’ed the show (ba dum chi!). What a voice, what stage presence and delivery. In addition to singing his you-know-what off, he put on a show. He climbed on a table, got everyone to get up and shake it, dropped to the floor (as did a few of the performers) and generally got the blood rushing everywhere.

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For that last song, Sam was up on stage, first playing the tambourine in the back (his signature) but then coming forward to sing background, sharing the mic with Dani Tersini.

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After Martin’s second number, roughly halfway through the show, Sam introduced a representative from Foundation Fighting Blindness. I won’t get her name right, so I won’t attempt it. She described the work they do and the Vision Walk, and invited all of us to learn more about it, and join on the walk on April 21st.

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Whew, made it to the end (that comment was for me, not you!). Winking smile

Some closing notes and a treat!

When we were waiting for the doors to open, four German tourists came up to ask if we on line for the club next door. We told them what we were there to see. The guy in front of us in line went into a hard sales pitch to get them to join us. They seemed interested, but left to grab a bite, saying they might return.

Indeed, they got there in time for the start of the show. Both of us noticed them having a blast throughout, whooping louder than most people at the more feverish parts. Glad they believed us and joined. Even gladder they enjoyed it! Smile

As I noted up front, in addition to the artists donating their time, it’s also a showcase for them to be discovered. Sam does an amazing job of not only promoting them during the show, but of ensuring that they’re easy to find online. Sam had a two-page handout which listed every performer (except for Sarah Stern). You can find out what bands they play in, what site they’re at, what their Twitter handle is, etc. Here are both pages of the program:

ProgramPage1ProgramPage2

Here’s the set list (remember, they had to cut Stephanie White’s second song):

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Finally, the treat. Sam cut a short highlight reel. It’s great and will give you a good sense of some of the performers, but you simply have to trust me on two points: 1) Many of the ones that didn’t make this reel were awesome and 2) no video will ever sound and feel like the live version does! Sam will also be uploading a longer highlight reel, which will have at least a bit of every single song in it, so keep checking his YouTube channel:

Leave a Lasting Mark Highlights from April 3rd, 2012

As always, we were surrounded by friends, some of whom Lois captured:

IrisRachelRachelAliceAndMoms

StephenChopekHadar

Adam Minkoff Randomonium 9 at Rockwood Music Hall

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Adam Minkoff has a regular gig at Rockwood Music Hall, called Randomonium. It’s typically (always?) on a Wednesday night, starting at midnight.

We’ve been fans of Adam’s for a while (mostly for his bass work, but we’ve also seen him do wonders on electric guitar, a floor tom and sing up a storm as well). We had no idea what to expect at a Randomonium, but we had an interest in finding out. We missed the last two, just because we couldn’t stay up that late on those particular nights.

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Last night was an epic night on a number of levels, and we weren’t going to let a little something like a midnight start get in the way of continuing the epicness. Before Randomonium, we attended back-to-back sets in Westchester, then drove to NYC and caught back-to-back sets at Rockwood 2, then headed over to catch Randomonium at Rockwood 1, already in full swing when we walked in at 12:15am.

Whatever I saw last night, I can’t be sure is worth describing for past shows or future ones. After all, Randomonium is the name for a reason!

If I had to guess (extrapolate), I’d say it’s a chance for Adam to gather as many talented people as he can on a given night, pick a bunch of songs that might have no relation to each other, then perform them, with a lot of jamming to show off the individual skills. Toss in a commercial jingle or two, done over and over throughout the set to give you the sense that it was being sponsored (last night was the Mentos theme, complete with an actual roll of Mentos!).

Adam wailed on the bass throughout the set and sang a ton. He’s great. He also had an infectiously good time up there.

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Last night’s collection of musicians, left-to-right on stage:

Michael Eaton on saxophone. He ripped it up multiple times.

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Jackie Coleman on trumpet. She didn’t play quite as much as Michael did, but when she played, she was excellent. When the two played together, they were like a full brass section. I was standing three feet from them, so I got the full treatment (in the best sense).

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Mark Marshall on electric guitar. Mark was one of two lead guitarists. Mark was also one of the few people on the stage that I’ve seen a few times before. I’ve noted that he’s excellent on the guitar, and not conventional at all.

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Yuval Semo on grand piano and electronic keyboards. He was fantastic! At one point, Adam teased him to play some Bach, in honor of his birthday. Yuval said no, but then started playing some variations, sounding awesome. Then Adam challenged him to play it in different styles, one after another. One of the styles was “Billy Joel”. Yuval was up to the task each time Adam commanded a new style.

YuvalSemo

Nick Oddy on electric guitar and vocals. Nick shared the lead guitar duties with Mark, but Nick was more prominent on stage because he was heavily involved in the vocals. He was also the Mentos spokesperson, singing the jingle and offering up the actual Mentos’ to anyone who wanted them. He was also excellent on the guitar!

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Abby Ahmad on vocals and tambourine. I’m a big fan of Abby and her voice. This was hard-core rock and Abby is more than capable of belting it out, even over seven musicians who are wailing as hard and loud as they can. Abby also played the electric guitar on one number.

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Adam Christgau on drums. There was a time, in 2009 and 2010 that I used to write about Adam at least once a week. Then he started touring outside of NYC and now it’s the rarest of times that we get to see him. We were committed to attending this Randomonium anyway, but I admit to having more than a little sense of excitement when I saw this tweet:

Adam Christgau ? @adamchristgau

First gig back in NYC since December. Playin w/ Adam Minkoff’s Randomonium at Rockwood 1. Midnight! Free! Come out freaks!

Yes, it’s been a while (six months) since we’ve seen Adam perform a full set. Last night, he was on fire. He had to be, to keep up with the insanity going on in that room. Whew!

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Xenia Rubinos came up to sing one song taking Abby Ahamad’s place in center stage. She sang her heart out, keeping up with everyone else.

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Marco Buccelli replaced Adam Christgau at the drums for the same song that Xenia sang. He too was incredible on the drums (all of the songs were super fast).

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At 12:53am, Adam announced that they had one song left. I admit to being really happy to hear that. I had been standing since we arrived at Rockwood 2 at 10:38pm and this was my fifth consecutive set (and it was louder than the previous four combined!).

Little did I know that the last song at a Randomonium can easily last 1/2 an hour! I guess I should be thankful that this one only lasted 20 minutes. Each person gets to take a long solo (there were typically eight people on stage at a time). It was an epic ending to an epic night, but I was glad when it was really over and I could rush home to crash.

No music tonight, just a fabulous dinner catching up with an out-of-town friend of 30 years! Tomorrow night we crank it up again. Smile

Abby Ahmad at The Living Room

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Abby Ahmad was at The Living Room last night. I only learned about the show a few days ago and immediately changed our plans (from doing nothing, we need some of those nights too every once in a while). Unfortunately, it was a 10pm start time, but you do what you have to do to see the people you want to see.

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I’ve only seen Abby once before, performing three songs at Backscratch XVII. Here’s what I wrote about her that night:

Abby Ahmad was up next. Another first for me. Great voice, very interesting guitar play. I really liked her songs as well. In other words, someone I intend to go see doing a full set soon (she’s playing Rockwood on Thursday at 11pm, but that might be too late for me that night).

I was happy to follow through on that intention.

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Again, Abby displayed an incredible voice. Again, her guitar play was quite interesting (she can definitely hold my interest as a solo artist). She’s also a very good songwriter. Again, she was accompanied by an excellent band. This time she even threw in two wonderful guests. Abby also played the piano on one number, very well.

AbbyAhmadPiano

Still, the set didn’t leave me with the feeling I expected. Some of the issues were out of Abby’s control (perhaps most), some were not (or at least I perceived them as somewhat controllable).

Before mentioning a few of those frustrations, let me heap some serious praise on the core band and the two guests. Left-to-right on the stage:

Sean Dixon on drums (once again, no good individual link). This was the fourth time we’ve seen Sean. It was also his best performance, largely because it was a full set of mostly rock, so he got to open it up more than in previous shows. The first time we saw him I mentioned that he’s particularly good on the cymbals. That was true again last night.

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Adam Minkoff on electric bass and light background vocals. Adam is one of our favorite bass players. He’s a very good singer and electric guitarist as well, but that’s not what he plays in Abby’s band. He also played the floor tom in one song (as he did the first time we saw Abby), but I’ll get to that later.

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Mark Marshall on electric guitar. We’ve seen Mark a couple of times now and his guitar play always impresses (though it’s often unconventional). He was quite good last night as well, but he used a few too many effects for my taste (mostly in closing out numbers in a fuzzy fashion). Like Adam above, he played a floor tom on one number.

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Jason Crosby on grand piano. Jason joined Abby for two numbers. He took a couple of long leads and otherwise played amazingly. I’ll describe his play as wow, in order to be as accurate as I can be. When we walked out, Jason was standing at the bar. Lois walked over to him to tell him how awesome he was. I was much more articulate. I looked at him and said: “What she said!”.

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In case you didn’t bother clicking through to his MySpace page, let me paste his bio in here for you. Look at who he’s played with, and you’ll understand my wow above. Of course, we experienced the wow, without having a clue as to who he’s been chosen to play with/by:

Over the last decade, Jason has been a member of Robert Randolph and the Family Band and the Susan Tedeschi Band, among others. Over the last few years, Crosby has played with Carlos Santana, Pete Seeger, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews in various configurations. His discography is equally as impressive with appearances on Anastasia’s multil-platinum hit “Freak of Nature” to Tedeschi’s Grammy Nominated “Wait for Me”, just to name a few. After 15 years of touring, Jason has recently returned to his native New York to write, record, and produce with many NYC artists, while keeping his overall focus on writing and recording his own music.

Morgan Cohen (no good individual link). Interestingly, I can’t find a good individual link for her under her maiden name either, even though she achieved quite a bit of fame as Morgan McOwen. In 2009 she was a contestant on Season 8 of American Idol, getting the Golden Ticket to Hollywood. She joined Abby to sing harmony (gorgeously) on two numbers. She definitely has a great voice, so it’s easy to see even three years later how she made it to American Idol.

MorganCohen

Back to Abby and some of the issues with the set. This was a much fuller band with Abby playing electric guitar on half of the numbers. She was excellent on the guitar, but with everything so much louder, it was harder to hear (or rather concentrate on) much of her lyrics. That’s a shame, because I’ve already mentioned that I think she’s a very good songwriter.

Many of the songs were new (no issue there). They were way more rock than I expected (also not an issue, just caught me by surprise). In fact, on the first two numbers, if I closed my eyes, I could have guessed that Grace Slick was singing Jefferson Airplane songs (just ones I hadn’t heard before).

So, why was the set frustrating?

It was scheduled to begin at 10pm. The band before didn’t stop playing until 10:20 and then had to tear down. Abby and her band, but mostly Abby and Mark took a long time to set up. I would rather wait it out and get it right (obviously), but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant. Their set started at 10:40pm. Ouch.

Second, I am normally extremely impressed with the sound engineer (and system) at The Living Room. Last night was not their best, with volumes distorting at times and some of the sounds on the shrill side. That was exacerbated by the much louder rock set than the previous Rockwood numbers I had seen Abby play.

To add insult to injury, Mark’s amp acted up on him (I could still hear it, so I don’t think it completely blew out). That delayed a song quite a bit in the middle of the set. It wasn’t clear what they would do, until the next band scheduled offered up their amp. Day saved, but again, at the cost of discomfort and delay.

Abby joked that they are the “King, Queen and Court of technical difficulties” and that therefore this was just par for the course. I hope their luck improves.

Let’s end on a more positive note. The first time we saw Abby, I raved about her opening song (I didn’t know the name then). Adam didn’t play the bass, instead he drummed on a floor tom, with Sean Dixon using the rest of the drum kit. Last night they closed the show with that song (I think it’s Give It Up) and added even more of a flair with Mark Marshall also playing a floor tom, making for three drummers playing simultaneously. I loved it!

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I will definitely go see Abby again, as soon as possible. Ironically, she’s playing tonight at Rockwood 1, with Mark, in a new blues/rock group that they are calling Fife and Drom. The show starts at 10pm. We’ll be at Joe’s Pub earlier and won’t be able to make this one. Next time!

Here is the set list:

SetList

Backscratch XVII at Rockwood Music Hall

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Last night we attended the early show at Joe’s Pub. Under normal circumstances, we would have run home after the show. These were not normal circumstances. Over at Rockwood Music Hall, timed perfectly for us, was Backscratch XVII. That would have been more than enough to get us to stay out for another few hours.

More poignantly, and most unfortunately, this was also billed as the last NYC-based Backscratch. Folks, that’s simply a tragedy (of reasonably large proportions). The concept of Backscratch was originated by Martin Rivas (and I think Craig Meyer). It will live on in London, run by Alex Berger, but unless I can find a way to blackmail Martin (or twist his arm really hard), it’s going to be very expensive to catch one of these shows in the future.

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In addition to just wanting to catch any Backscratch show, the lineup for last night was particularly tasty. Every performer was particularly sharp (they understood the stakes), so it ended up being an extra-special night all around.

Quick recap of what a Backscratch is: 6-9 performers. Each does three numbers. One has to be a cover of one of the other performers. They get drawn randomly and no one knows in advance who is doing their song. For the other two numbers, deep tradition has the artist performing one of their originals plus a well-known cover. More recently, many artists perform two originals.

Stephanie White and the Philth Harmonic were up first. The Philth Harmonic is Robbie LaFalce (considering that Stephanie’s name appears separately and there are only two of them). Let’s start with Stephanie. We’ve seen her sing one song, at one of Sam Techman’s Leave a Lasting Mark benefit shows. She was extraordinary then, and again last night. The woman can sing, pure and simple.

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We’ve seen Robbie LaFalce three times, all at Sam Teichman benefits. At the first, he drummed. The second, he played piano. The third, he drummed, played piano, and sang. Last night, he played the electric guitar on all three numbers. Beautiful play, subtly, but interestingly supporting Stephanie.

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This was the first time that we saw them play together, as the Philth Harmonic.

Unlike most Backscratch performers, they chose to do their cover as the middle number (there are no hard-and-fast rules). They drew The Vanity Belles. I am not familiar enough with the VB version to tell you how much Stephanie morphed it, but I can tell you that Stephanie was exceptional in performing her version.

On one of the numbers, Robbie added a percussion loop and some looping of him clapping and playing guitar. It created a much bigger sound than the two of them would otherwise have.

Morgan Karr was up next. I had never seen him before. He kicked it off on the grand piano, playing beautifully, but really, showing off a great voice. For the next number, he came to center stage and just sang (he had accompaniment) without playing any instrument. Again, his voice really shone and I really liked his songs as well.

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For his backscratch, he sang accompanied by only an upright bass. He drew Jay Stolar. Again, I wasn’t familiar with Jay’s song, but Morgan nailed his rendition of it, hitting some high notes spectacularly.

MorganKarrSinging

Morgan was accompanied by two top-notch musicians:

Justin Goldner on acoustic guitar. I’ve seen Justin a number of times, mostly playing bass for Bri Arden and Sam’s benefits. I also saw him play acoustic guitar for a very intimate performance of Bri’s. He blows me away on the bass, but hadn’t on the acoustic guitar that one time. Last night, supporting Morgan, he showed a lot more skill on the acoustic guitar.

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Lorenzo Wolff on upright bass. Very good on the first two numbers. On the backscratch, he was the sole accompaniment (Justin sat that one out and Morgan sang). Hearing just a bass with a great vocalist really highlights how good (or not) the bass player is. Lorenzo is really good! Smile

LorenzoWolff

Abby Ahmad was up next. Another first for me. Great voice, very interesting guitar play. I really liked her songs as well. In other words, someone I intend to go see doing a full set soon (she’s playing Rockwood on Thursday at 11pm, but that might be too late for me that night).

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For her backscratch, she drew Morgan Karr. Another winner (both the song and her rendition).

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Abby was accompanied by two extremely talented people:

Adam Minkoff on electric bass and floor tom. On Abby’s first number, Adam took the floor tom from the drum kit and brought it up on stage. He and the drummer (up next) played together, mostly on the rims first (in unison) and then separately, creating an extraordinary jungle rhythm for Abby to sing to.

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For the next two numbers, Adam switched to his more usual electric bass, and of course, was his usual excellent self.

AdamMinkoffBass

Sean Dixon on drums (again, no good link for him). This was my second time seeing Sean, and again he was excellent. In addition to playing the drum kit (minus the floor tom which Adam swiped, he also played the djembe on one number, beautifully. In fact, he put the djembe where the floor tom would have been. Not sure where else he could have placed it otherwise. Smile

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Jay Stolar was up next. We’ve never seen Jay do his own stuff, but have seen him sing a song here and there (as a guest, and at a benefit concert). He has a superb voice which was in full effect last night and played the acoustic guitar. I really enjoyed his two songs.

JayStolar

He drew Derek James for his backscratch. He chose Mama Said (it helps that I’m Derek James’ biggest fan, self-declared, so that I at least know which song Jay was covering). He played it so much slower than Derek does, but it totally worked. I’ll still take Derek’s version, but huge Kudos to Jay for creative arrangement and execution!

Jason Wexler accompanied Jay Stolar on his two numbers, sitting out the backscratch. Jason was superb on the grand piano. It started off in a funny manner. Jay began by picking on one or two notes, repeatedly, in a slow rhythmic manner, alone, no singing and no piano accompaniment. After a minute, Jay turned to Jason and said “Feel free to join in any time!”. Winking smile

JasonWexler

Jason laughed and immediately launched into a fantastic series of piano leads. Satisfied, Jay started singing. Smile

Derek James was up next. This was the first time I’ve seen Derek solo. I loved both of his numbers, which he dedicated to Terry. He kicked it off with What’s That Sound from his first CD, Stray. In a small-world story, I didn’t have that CD (though I’ve seen Derek perform the song a number of times), but Lois had secretly arranged with Derek in advance to purchase the CD last night, so I have it now! Smile

DerekJames

I was totally satisfied with Derek’s solo performance, but I admit that with the full band, there’s a swagger that was missing last night.

Derek drew Stephanie and the Philth Harmonic for his backscratch and did a beautiful job. Another example of me not knowing the original, so I can’t compare the versions.

The final act to close down the NYC-based backscratches (unless I have my way with Martin!) were The Vanity Belles. I’ve mentioned how much I love them a number of times, even though the first time I’ve ever seen them perform live, as themselves, was just this past Wednesday at a benefit show.

They were stripped down last night, the two Belles, Carrie Welling and Jessi Rae Waltz, accompanied by the amazing Oscar Bautista on acoustic guitar (they typically have a full band).

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They opened with a brand new song that so blew me away I can’t find the words to describe it. I happened to be standing next to their manager, Patryk Larney, and I couldn’t contain myself after the song. I turned to him and said: “Holy cow, that was absolutely extraordinary!”.

He said that he agreed, and they just finished it and rushed to get it on the new CD (of which I am a very proud Kickstarter contributor). I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that I will soon own this song.

CarrieWellingJessiRaeWaltzOscarBautista

Their next song had Jessi move to the grand piano. It too was absolutely breathtaking.

They finished with their backscratch, drawing Abby Ahmad. Another mind-blowing performance, and I really loved the song too (credit for that to Abby, obviously, though I have no idea how her original version sounds).

Folks, if The Vanity Belles don’t make it, the world is very broken.

They closed the show by awarding Martin Rivas with an actual backscratcher, dated and signed by everyone who appeared last night. A very nice gesture indeed!

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Here a pic of Alex Berger, currently the only Backscratch Master, with Jay Stolar. Alex has a show in 3 hours at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, so hurry up and get over there! Smile

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