Adam Christgau

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.

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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

Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss at Jammin Java

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Another night, another stop on the Intergalactic Tour of the Universe and Beyond Tour. It wasn’t originally meant to be, but when the Universe (and Beyond!) wants something, it makes it happen.

Two years ago, Richmond CenterStage opened with a big gala celebration. I covered one of the nights. Last night was a big anniversary celebration, with Patti LaBelle as the headliner. We had tickets and were committed to attending a very long time ago.

On June 30th, I saw the following tweet:

JamnJavaDoorGal
I know what can make a few smile, especially @linds047 – 9/10 -Ian Axel + Bess Rogers + Allie Moss http://bit.ly/kE5gyC

So, even though we knew about this show 10 weeks out, we also knew there was no way we could attend. A few weeks ago, my friend told me that I’d have to wear a suit to attend the Patti LaBelle show. If you know me, you can probably guess what my body language involuntarily portrayed. I was going to do it, but I didn’t need to be happy about it.

Earlier this week, he called me (we were still in NY) and said that he knew some people who would really appreciate getting their hands on our tickets. Obviously, he would be delighted if we really wanted to attend, but essentially, he was letting me off the hook (he knows me for 29.5 years, so the suit reaction wasn’t a surprise to him). It took us all of two minutes to conclude that the tickets were better used by the local Richmonders.

Suddenly, going to Jammin’ Java to see another round of the Intergalactic Tour was a reality. If you’re wondering whether we had even one second’s hesitation about seeing them for a fourth time in five days, you’ve never met us or read my tiny corner of the Internet.

As with all shows, there’s enough of a twist to make them worth showing up to. That was true last night too, even though two of the twists weren’t so positive. The overall show/experience was great, so I am not (really) complaining.

There was a late show scheduled for 10pm (different group) so the start time for this show was moved up to 7pm (that part, us old folks like, especially since we had a 2.5 hour round-trip drive to get to/from the venue). I assumed our folks would play until at least 9pm, and then the hustle would begin to clear the place.

I was wrong. They were told that they had to be off the stage by 8:30pm sharp! There wasn’t even a chance to cajole an encore. The second the set was over, the lights came on and the house music started playing.

On the flip side (a very positive flip side at that!), the crowd got to line-up and connect with the artists for quite a long time (so people were not hustled out at 8:30). I haven’t seen that long a line at a merch table in quite a while (separate from the long line of people waiting to hi, or get some of that merch signed!). Lindsie (of yesterday’s post’s fame) was working the merch table. A very valiant effort!

The other positive flip side is that there were no breaks between the the sets of the three performers. Each took exactly 30 minutes. While that probably cut roughly 10-15 minutes off what each has been doing on this tour, saving the 10-15 minutes between sets was actually quite pleasant (to me at least). The fact that we were back in the hotel room shortly after 10pm was a very pleasant side-effect of the early ending.

Allie Moss kicked it off, with the full band, playing Passerby, which included everyone singing at the end (everyone = Bess Rogers, Ian Axel, Adam Christgau and Chris Anderson). Ian then left the stage, returning once more to play with Allie with the others taking a beak. They played Prisoner of Hope. I think that was the first time they played it where we were in attendance (though I haven’t grabbed set lists this week, so I could be remembering it incorrectly).

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With the exception of another solo song (or two?), Bess sang harmony with Allie (perfectly) and Adam and Chris did their always amazing jobs on the drums and electric bass respectively.

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Allie seemed dramatically healthier than the night before, thank goodness. Otherwise, she took great pains to avoid talking about feeling poorly.

When her 30 minutes was up, she and Bess simply traded spots. Bess introduced herself by saying: “You may remember me from earlier in the night when I was standing over there.” Smile

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Bess had Allie sing harmony on most of her songs too (again, perfectly). Adam and Chris were on each of those numbers as well. She also played some solo numbers, including In My Life on the ukulele.

She finished up her set by inviting Ian to join the rest of them in performing Anchor (the single from her upcoming CD, where In My Life is the B Side).

After about 10 seconds of confusion as to whether they would take a break before Ian started, they decided against a break. Good decision!

Ian sat down (he was already on stage) and started playing Leave Me Alone! He played the same set from the night before, but had to toss a few songs due to the time constraint. So, no Amory. He played Say Something on the keyboards (reverting from the previous night’s ukulele version). It was awesome, so even though I (slightly) prefer the ukulele version, I’ll take it any way Ian wants to deliver it.

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Chad Vaccarino came out for the second half of Ian’s set to very loud cheers and applause. He was joined on the first number by Allie Moss. They sang Shorty Don’t Wait, with Ian on the ukulele (the only song Ian played on the uke, as opposed to three consecutive numbers the night before). Adam played acoustic guitar on Shorty.

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Of course they nailed it. When Chad sang, the whoops were exactly as you hear them in NYC. In other places, I am 100% sure that people feel the urge, but they probably think it’s impolite (and in general/theory, it is), but when it’s Chad, it’s such a natural reaction, and so expected in NYC (and now in DC as well), that you just have to let out the joy (otherwise, it would be like a holding in a sneeze, i.e., not good for you). Smile

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Allie does a fantastic job singing the second verse on the lead, bringing a similar style/emotion to the song that Chad does. The chorus and ending are three-part harmony (with Ian joining Chad and Allie) that simply forces a smile on your face.

Ian and Chad also played Rockstar (such a great song) and closed it out with This is the New Year.

We got to say hi/goodbye to everyone except for Chris Anderson (who I think was loading the equipment onto the van) and Allie (I simply didn’t see her in the dark). We will not be seeing them again on this tour (a single tear streaked down my cheek as I typed that).

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Thanks to all of them: Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino, Bess Rogers, Allie Moss, Adam Christgau and Chris Anderson for making this week unbelievably special for us. We’ll never forget it! Smile

Now for the second negative. The sound guy just couldn’t get the vocal levels right. For much of the night, they were too bright/loud. Eventually, I either got used to it, or he woke up a bit and toned it down. The sound booth was roughly 10 rows directly behind me, so I can’t imagine he was hearing it much differently than I was. It’s one of the mysteries of live show engineering that feels destined to elude my understanding forever…

We normally eat at Jammin’ Java when we see a show there. The food is excellent and we look forward to it. Last night we were having dinner with a friend and we were interested in something more leisurely, quiet, with a bit more choice. I did a search nearby in Google and found a dozen restaurants listed within 1000 feet of Jammin’ Java (apparently, that little strip mall is restaurant heaven).

I chose Café Renaissance, which is around the corner of the same block of stores that Jammin’ Java is in. The first few reviews I read were some of the most praise-worthy I had ever seen, describing the service as unparalleled and food excellent. Then I read some real slams as well. Then I read some people slamming the slammers. So, it didn’t seem to be a slam dunk, but we decided to try it anyway.

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I’m officially slamming the slammers as well. We had a great meal and were treated like kings (and a queen). I could complain that they were a bit over-solicitous, but that would only be true because we were time-constrained to make it to Jammin’ Java by showtime. Otherwise, their attention and conversation were delightful and welcome.

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It’s not cheap (if you go for the full treatment, which we did, of appetizer and wine), but I thought it was more than worth the price. I am absolutely sure that we will dine there again. We did buy two large lattes and one large coffee at Jammin’ Java. Partially out of guilt about not spending the money for dinner there, but mostly because they live up to having Java in their name! Smile

Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss at a House Concert

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Last night was our third time in four days seeing Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss perform (no big deal, don’t be too jealous). The last two shows were part of the Intergalactic Tour of the Universe and Beyond Tour. All three shows were unique because the venues were so different, as were the audiences. Of course, there were changes in the banter and the set lists as well.

The first was at Bowery Ballroom, covered here. The second was at The Falcon, covered here. Allie and Bess were a key part of Rosi Golan’s set at Bowery Ballroom on the same night that Ian performed. That post is here. Whew.

Last night’s show was a house concert in Arlington, VA, hosted by the extraordinary Lindsie. We met Lindsie when she hosted an Ian Axel house concert six months ago. It was one of the best shows we’ve attended, so when we go the invitation to this one, we made sure to be in VA for it.

Lindsie

The Bowery Ballroom was show was great! The Falcon show was better, in that it was much more intimate, zero talking by the audience and more talking by the performers.

Last night was even better. So much more intimate, total silence during the songs, thunderous applause after each song and lots of mixing/chatting with the musicians before, between and after the sets. Oh, and there were homemade moonpies (among other yummy desserts)! Smile

MoonPies

When we’re down in VA, we’re here to work at Zope Corporation. That gives us an opportunity to invite some of the music lovers in the company to attend shows with us. Last night, eight of us attended (one was a 7-year-old, not a slave-labor employee, the daughter of a slave-labor employee). Winking smile

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Bess Rogers opened the show. Before she came out, there was a microphone in the middle of the stage area (this is a home, there was no actual stage). Bess decided to have it removed and the rest of the singers sang without the aid of the microphone either. For the most part, that was fantastic. No effects, direct from their mouth to our ears. A few times, Bess sang softly, and her words were a bit swallowed up by the band. On balance, still excellent.

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Bess played acoustic guitar and ukulele.

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She played a few numbers solo (including her exceptional cover of In My Life by The Beatles). On the rest, she was accompanied by:

Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris sat on his amp, and played a very quiet, mellow bass, even though it was amplified. I commented to him after the show that he was able to get even quieter than he could have with an acoustic upright bass (he agreed). It was perfect (volume, as well as his always amazing play).

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Adam Christgau on drums (and anything else you can hit!). A truly extraordinary performance by Adam. This was not the setting to plop a full drum set in and bang away. Aside from washing out the vocals, it would have overwhelmed the audience independently.

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Adam had a single snare drum (no cymbals). For most of the evening, he had his shirt draped over it to mute it even further. On occasion he used a shaker. At other times a tambourine, all while using the other hand to continue hitting the snare. He used Bess’ guitar case as a kick drum (which sounded really good). That wasn’t enough. He often hit the top of the guitar case with a stick or mallet.

He also used brushes to great effect. And, when he wanted the sound of a cymbal, he hit the tambourine with a stick, or with his foot. Basically, he was inventive.

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All of that was amazing, but the best part of Adam’s performance was his singing. He sang a lot with Bess. I knew he could sing, but his range was much greater than I had previously experienced. He sang some really high parts, wonderfully.

In my post about The Falcon, I mentioned that we bought Bess’ single of her upcoming CD, Anchor, with In My Life on the “B side”. I didn’t have a chance to listen to it until after I posted. Yesterday, before we headed up to the show I listened to it. Both songs are great, but I was blown away to hear In My Life, professionally produced, with harmony (Bess overdubs and harmonizes with herself). I was already excited for the new CD, but even more so now.

I also mentioned how funny/clever/quick Bess was at The Falcon. Ditto last night. It’s largely a self-deprecating humor, but nothing about is canned. One of the running gags last night involved the above-highlighted moonpies. Bess had one on a plate that she placed on Ian’s keyboard (so that she could keep an eye on it while she performed).

Way on the left edge of this photo, you can Bess still connecting with her moonpie. Winking smile

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She mentioned that she didn’t want to risk them all being gone by the end of her set. She kept eyeing it between songs and making a number of jokes about it. The second her set was done, she took a big bite, sharing her obvious satisfaction with us. Smile

Allie Moss sang on two songs with Bess, playing glockenspiel. In the two days since we saw Allie at The Falcon, she got sick and nearly lost her voice. I think that’s why Adam filled in singing on songs that Allie otherwise would have sung with Bess. Still, her harmonies with Bess were beautiful.

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Ian Axel joined for one song as well on the piano, the above-mentioned Anchor, one of the songs Allie was on as well. It was awesome, having everyone (yes, all five of them, including Adam and Chris) singing together.

In the car on the way back to Fredericksburg, one of the guys asked me whether Bess puts her music up on Bandcamp. I just checked, and yes indeed, it’s available for streaming (both Anchor and In My Life). Once you listen, spend the $1.98 to buy it so that Bess can afford her next moonpie!

Allie Moss was up next. It was clear that she wasn’t feeling well. She could have easily gotten away without performing, but she was a trooper and delivered a pretty incredible set. A very few times you could see an expression on her face that she thought she wouldn’t be able to hit the next note. She did, but it obviously took more concentration than it normally does.

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Her guitar play wasn’t affected, it was very good. She sang a few solo and the rest with Adam and Chris supporting her.

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Bess joined for at least two songs (one on the glockenspiel) and sang gorgeous harmony with her.

Allie was hysterical as well, but it was largely due to jokes about her illness and the effects of any medication she took (it seemed to kick in gradually during the course of her set). Trust me, she’s very funny when she’s healthy as well.

When she sang Passerby and reached the line “What if we’d shared a pint”, she leaned forward toward the 7-year-old and whispered “of ice cream”, without missing a beat. Did I tell you how quick and clever these ladies are? Smile

Like with Bess’ Digital 45, I didn’t have a chance to listen to Allie’s CD, Late Bloomer when I last posted. That too was rectified before the show. Another winner. A beautiful CD from start to finish. These ladies are on a roll, with their individual careers as well as their roles in Ingrid Michaelson’s band.

Ian was up next, starting out with Leave Me Alone, accompanied by Adam and Chris. Since Ian’s keyboard had to be amplified, both Adam and Chris were able (needed) to crank it up a bit. Amazingly, Ian’s voice was strong and clear enough to be heard perfectly on every note throughout the set, even though he had a more difficult task than Bess and Allie.

Ian is always impish (at least at times) during every show, and the audience always responds to it. At a house concert, it’s so much easier to connect with that side of his personality, and it was in full force last night.

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Lois told Ian before the show that the 7-year-old and her 2-year-old brother (who wasn’t at the show) are entranced whenever their mom puts on Waltz. They both play air piano trying to keep up with Ian (it’s not possible, but A for effort to the kids!). Smile

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After playing Gone, Ian played Waltz, looking at the 7-year-old and saying: “This one’s for you”. Smile

There were some changes to the set list from the other shows. One biggie started with Ian coming out from behind the keyboard and picking up the ukulele. He said that he was getting sick of playing the song he was about to play and he hoped that playing it on the ukulele (rather than the keyboards) would make it fresher for him.

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I knew immediately which song he was going to play, Say Something. It’s absolutely gorgeous on the piano, which is how he mostly plays it the past year, but it was originally written on the ukulele, which is how I heard it the first few times. I’m partial to the ukulele version, because it’s rawer, allowing the overwhelming emotion of the song (and Ian’s delivery!) to smack you in the face. That’s doubly true in such an intimate venue.

After the show, a few people told Ian that he had to continue to play the song, even if he’s sick of it, because it’s cathartic for them, or people they know. Lindsie was one of those people and she told us (and Ian) about a friend of hers who attended a show in LA a few weeks ago and was totally moved by the song due to current circumstances in his life.

Ian continued with two more numbers on the ukulele (I might not have the order correct). He asked Allie if she was up to singing with him and she was. She and Chad Vaccarino (Ian’s writing and performing partner) came up to sing Shorty (with Adam Christgau switching to acoustic guitar to accompany them).

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We saw Chad, Allie and Ian (with Adam) do Shorty (one of my favorites) at Bowery and The Falcon, both amazingly well. Still, last night was even better. At the other shows, the leads were sung right into the microphone (perfectly), but all three (Chad, Allie and Ian) shared that same mic to sing the chorus. These mic’s are mostly directional, with short pickup ranges, so the harmonies could be heard (because it’s relatively quiet), but there’s really a lack of power.

Last night, no microphone, all three voices (even Allie’s sick one) came through flawlessly and at the right volume.

When Allie left, Ian, Chad and Adam played a song they debuted at Bowery but didn’t play at The Falcon, Amory. It was stunning at Bowery, but like Shorty, even better last night (for the same reasons). Three-part harmony for the win!

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There were a couple of funny moments as Ian and Adam weren’t on the same page about a repeating section. That’s another major advantage of a house concert, the comfort level between the performers and the audience, where you can actually enjoy a flub, especially when you know you’re watching a great song being birthed.

Ian then announced that the ukulele portion of the evening was over. Winking smile

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Back at the keyboards, Ian and Chad (along with Adam and Chris) played Rockstar and killed it. They finished up with This is the New Year. Of course it was great, but I was blown away by how interesting Adam kept the drumming, with such a minimalist setup.

Speaking of Adam, one one song (of course I can’t remember which right now), Adam switched from the snare to his signature use of a Frisbee as a percussive instrument. Well done! Smile

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Of course, the eight of us bought a ton of merch! Here is a photo of Ian, with his T-Shirt Brigade. The Tour Poster (also in the photo) was designed by Kristine Thune:

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Here’s Ian signing a CD for one our folks:

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The only negative the entire evening was that the show started 50-minutes late. We were tempted to run out instantly when it was over (we had a 1-hour drive ahead of us), but the glow in the room was impossible to leave, so we ended up schmoozing and taking a ton of photos with everyone. It was worth it, but we didn’t get back to the hotel until midnight.

We drove up in two cars, boys in one, girls in the other. Before heading over to the show we had a lovely dinner at Sawatdee, a Thai restaurant in Arlington. Thanks for the recommendation Lindsie! Smile

Ian Axel, Bess Rogers and Allie Moss at The Falcon

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We love surprising musicians by showing up in places they’d never expect us. It’s way more fun when the venue is new to us and everything we read makes us think it will be a favorite, instantly. Such was the case last night.

Having just seen Ian Axel the night before (Tuesday) at Bowery Ballroom, he didn’t expect to see us two hours north of there the next night. Allie Moss was at Bowery Ballroom as well, singing on more than 1/2 of Rosi Golan’s CD Release Show. Bess Rogers joined Rosi and Allie to close the show, so we were actually seeing every performer for a second night in a row.

The venues couldn’t be more different. The night out at Bowery Ballroom was fantastic (you can read about the three sets here, here and here). Even so, The Falcon (last night’s venue) is so much more to our liking on every level. I’ll tell you why after I cover the music.

I’m reverting back to my normal style of covering the performers in reverse order.

Ian Axel got to return to a real grand piano. He’s been playing electronic keyboards and even a mock baby grand (looked like a grand, but was actually electronic at the Beacon Theatre). You can see its effect on Ian. He brightens up and is infused with even more energy (if that’s possible) when his fingers connect with ivory, rather than plastic.

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He set a different tone immediately. At Bowery Ballroom, Ian opened with Gone (a slow, emotional song). He played it last night too (fairly early), but opened with Leave Me Alone! It was fantastic, for two reasons: 1) It’s a great song and Ian and the band nailed it, and 2) The audience surprised the heck out of me!

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Here’s what I wrote about that song the night before (Chris refers to the bass player):

Hearing that song in NYC is so different than anywhere else. In NYC, such a large proportion of the crowd knows the cool clapping part (and has Chris to make sure they know when to do it, not that we don’t). In other places, there are a few lonely clappers who typically give up quickly.

My hubris was smacked down the very next night. Most of the people in the audience last night clapped correctly, immediately (in other words, they knew the song!). More importantly, three guys in the second row clapped it even when no one else ever does (it was appropriate from a percussion point of view, but it’s not in spots where the band expects it). They kept it up until the song was over. That’s commitment folks. Strike my comments from the night before!

Ian played most of the set accompanied by two band members (they didn’t travel with a guitar player):

Adam Christgau on drums, acoustic guitar and background vocals. Having seen Adam play the night before, it was impressive to see him shift gears and play some of the same songs with substantially more subtlety, matching the venue’s acoustics and size very appropriately. He did a very nice job on the acoustic guitar as well (something we only discovered he could play the night before).

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We met Adam’s mother at the show. She showed us a photo of Adam playing the drums at 3-years-old. It was one of the cutest photos we’ve ever seen. She was willing to send us a copy, but Adam insisted against it. So, I’m hereby considering starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to bribe his mom to ignore him, so we can release that photo into the wild (where it belongs!). Winking smile

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Chris Anderson on electric bass and background vocals. Like Adam, Chris was also more subdued at The Falcon. Also like Adam, there was a sophistication to his play that made it no less interesting than the night before. I’m always impressed by how professional Chris is. We see him so often, it amazes me how consistent he is.

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Ian played Say Something solo. He introduced the song and seemed a bit more emotional to me than he is at most shows. In fact, The Falcon seemed to bring out a bit more talkativeness in general (from the other performers as well) and that’s always a plus for me.

Chad Vaccarino, Ian’s primary writing partner, joined for a number of songs. The first, Shorty Don’t Wait, also had Allie Moss joining in, with Adam switching to the acoustic guitar. Chad sang lead on all but one verse, where Allie took over the mic. Allie, Chad and Ian shared the mic to sing the chorus and Ian played the ukulele. Shorty is one of my favorite songs and they delivered another winning performance.

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One of the songs that Chad and Ian performed was Rockstar, sure to be one of the bigger hits off their next CD (no, they haven’t started recording it yet, sigh…). When they opened for Five for Fighting in CT, they introduced a twist to the song. They morphed it into Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, then back to finish Rockstar.

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In CT, it was awesome. They did a longer version of Tiny Dancer. But, it wasn’t the smoothest transition in or out of Rockstar. At Bowery Ballroom and again last night, the transitions in/out were so seamless (really, perfect), that you would swear Elton John collaborated with them on Rockstar and Tiny Dancer.

I mentioned that to Ian after the Bowery Ballroom show, but I forgot to mention it in the post. I’m grateful to him for repeating the seamlessness last night, so I had a chance to correct my omission. Winking smile

They killed This is the New Year (do they ever not?). This was also the best example of Adam changing up the drums (quite dramatically) from the night before.

Ian had to come back for an encore (yes, had to) and he and Chad did You’ll Be OK. When they finished, everyone in the room gave them a standing ovation. No hesitations in people standing up. Great way to end the evening.

Bess Rogers was up before Ian. Adam and Chris backed her up for most of the set (though she did play solo acoustic guitar as well as ukulele). Allie Moss sang harmony on many of the numbers and played glockenspiel on at least one. The two of them sound so good (I guess it doesn’t hurt that they are forced to spend so much time together).

BessRogersAdamChristgauAllieMossChrisAndersonAllieMossGlockenspielChrisAnderson

Ian played piano on at least one number.

Bess played some songs from her upcoming CD (already recorded thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign). It should be out in October (fingers crossed). She also played a few off of her EP Bess Rogers Presents Bess Rogers.

BessRogersAdamChristgau

It was all excellent, but I have to say that she totally blew me away (and I suspect everyone else) when she switched to the ukulele, gave an introduction and then played, In My Life, by The Beatles. Wow. Not only did she sing it wonderfully, she went for it and played the fast instrumental part (played on the piano on Rubber Soul) on the ukulele and nailed it.

BessRogersUkulele

Aside from the music, Bess is just hysterical. Possibly NC-17 (not quite R), but it works for me. She’s smart and quick-witted. What else can you ask for? Nothing, that’s right!

Allie Moss opened the adult portion of the evening (you’ll understand that comment in a minute). I already mentioned above how great she sounded singing with Ian and Bess. I also linked to the post praising her performance singing with Rosi Golan.

AllieMoss

Let me add now that in addition to clearly having an excellent voice (and playing the guitar really well), she’s also a very good songwriter. She opened the show with Passerby. It’s a song inspired by the feeling we all have about other drivers (inducing the desire for road rage). One of the phrases that struck me:

Would I have grace for you
And you for me

Amen, let’s just all do it, have grace for each other, in all situations! She also sang the title cut from her CD, Late Bloomer, among others (we didn’t grab any set lists, so I can’t rattle off all the songs). Bess sang harmony on a few numbers and played ukulele on the opener. She also played glockenspiel on one number. Adam and Chris supported Allie on a good portion of the set as well.

AllieMossSinging

Ian played piano during Allie’s first number. I can’t recall whether he returned during her set.

Opening the show were two girls (yes, girls, not women or ladies), The Knox Sisters. They will soon be 13 and 11 (Hailey and Samantha). Don’t worry, their parents were there as well.

SamanthaKnoxHaileyKnox

Hailey played the guitar and sang all of the leads. Samantha played the cajon and dejembe and sang harmony on a song she wrote!

TheKnoxSisters

One of the songs they performed is the (current) default song on their YouTube Channel (Doorbell). It’s a year old, but is a reasonable representation of their performance last night. Hailey’s voice has matured further (IMO).

They received rousing applause after each song (from me as well) and were called back for an encore. I enjoyed their set, so I wasn’t just being polite, but I have to wonder whether everyone else felt that much more impressed than I was.

They are extremely impressive for their age, no doubt, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they make it, eventually, if they continue to work hard. That said, they aren’t really phenoms (in the child-prodigy sense). I wasn’t experiencing an 11-year-old Chris Thile, or a 10-year-old Sierra Hull, etc.

Allie, Bess and Ian all gushed over them, repeatedly. Whether they were being nice (supportive), or whether they saw something in these girls that I didn’t (being performers themselves), it was a very nice thing to do.

Lois bought a bunch of merch after the show. I look forward to listening to Allie’s Late Bloomer CD. We also bought a single from Bess’ upcoming CD. I think Bess said that the B-side is In My Life. We were driving all day today, so I haven’t had a chance to load it and find out if my wish will come true (that I heard correctly!).

AdamChristgauIanAxelBessRogersChadVaccarinoChrisAndersonAllieMoss

We bought a couple of T-Shirts (you can never have enough). Smile

OK, let’s wrap this up with some words about the venue itself.

The Falcon is simply an extraordinary place. It seats roughly 100 people. The first two rows are traditional seats. The rest of the room is tables that normally would seat four, but they orient the entire room toward the music. No one sits with their back to the stage or on the sides of the tables. That meant that the two of us shared that table for four, both sitting on one end together, facing the stage. Perfect!

Every person in the place (wait staff, owner Tony Falco, bartenders, bus-people, sound person) was happy, helpful, energetic and took their job seriously, doing it well.

The food was outstanding. I would go back for the food, even if there wasn’t music (it’s an hour’s drive from our house).

All of the above is great, but we showed up for the music. That’s where The Falcon shines even more. The acoustics were fantastic, in particular, the vocals (and kids, Allie, Bess, Ian and Chad are first and foremost about the vocals!). I was sitting in the stereo sweet spot (as if this was my living room and I got to design my own perfect sitting area).

The sound guy (he looked like a kid himself) was very active. I noticed a few times that if someone’s mic wasn’t just right (from the audience’s perspective), it was adjusted quickly. I often marvel at other places where the sound is awful and I think: is the sound guy in the restroom? He can’t be listening to what I’m listening to.

We’ll be back at the Falcon, no doubt. Here’s a great overview photo of the room.

Ian Axel at Bowery Ballroom

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Continuing with the pattern started in my last post about The Spring Standards, I am separating this one out from the other two sets at last night’s Bowery Ballroom show.

Ian Axel co-headlined Bowery Ballroom on May 24th, 2011 with The Spring Standards. Last night he co-headlined with Rosi Golan.

IanAxelPluggingIn

Since that night, we’ve only seen Ian perform with a full band once, when he opened for Five for Fighting. In fact, that show wasn’t quite a full band either. They played without a guitar and they had a substitute drummer, Zach Jones (who was absolutely incredible). We’ve seen Ian perform with Chad Vaccarino quite a number of times in between (so don’t worry about how we held up in the interim), including an extraordinary show at The Beacon Theatre.

There was still one change in the band, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Ian performed an exceptional set, which included three unrecorded songs, one of which we had never heard before (I’m not sure they’ve ever performed it at a show). The wide range of styles showed off Ian’s (and Chad’s) song-writing and performing capabilities (they’re most certainly not stuck in a single genre). The different styles were interspersed, so there wasn’t a “rock portion”, followed by an “acoustic portion”, followed by a “pop portion”, etc. That kept things very fresh.

IanAxelSinging

Two of the unrecorded songs are now well-known by Ian’s fans (everyone around me was singing out loud to both): Rockstar and Gold Digger. The new one is called Amory (though I admit to hearing it as Anne Marie). We had to look it up, Amory implies Heaven, or the epitome of the perfect American City. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense. But, it also worked in real-time when I thought it was a woman’s name. Winking smile

Amory was performed acoustically, with three-part harmony, and was simply gorgeous.

IanAxelChadVaccarino

Before we get to the band, there was a very special guest on one number.

Allie Moss came out to sing on Shorty Don’t Wait. In addition to singing three-part harmony with Chad and Ian, Allie sang a verse on lead, switching places with Chad to stand between the boys. Absolutely incredible.

ChadVaccarinoAllieMossIanAxelAllieMossChadVaccarinoIanAxelAdamChristgauIanAxelUkulele

For the one person out there that doesn’t know, Chad Vaccarino is Ian’s primary writing partner. They produce nothing short of magic together. They also sing a number of their songs together, alternating leads and harmonizing together (beautifully). In addition to singing, Chad plays electronic keyboards (adding an organ flavor to Ian’s piano sound) and trumpet.

ChadVaccarinoC

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

Andy Stack on electric guitar. This was the one change to the band last night. Previously, Chris Kuffner was the lead guitarist for Ian’s band. Recently, Chris has gotten very busy producing and his performing has had to take a back seat. I have no idea whether his withdrawal from Ian’s band is permanent, but I’m guessing that for the time being, that’s the case.

AndyStack

We’ve seen Andy Stack once before, when he played electric guitar with Greg Mayo. It was only two songs, but Andy impressed instantly. He’s brand new to Ian’s band (likely getting only one rehearsal in) and I have no idea whether the intention is for him to join the band on an ongoing basis.

That said, they worked hard to integrate the electric guitar into the music more that at any show I’ve been at (I’ve mentioned a number of times how unimportant the guitar has been). On most songs, that effort paid off. Andy is more than capable, but the real key was finding the right spots to highlight the guitar.

On one or two songs (Gone, the opener, in particular), the arrangement needs work (IMO). Since it was the first song, I was nervous that Andy wouldn’t blend well the entire set. Thankfully, I was way wrong. I’m looking forward to more of Andy in Ian’s band.

Adam Christgau on drums, acoustic guitar and vocals. We haven’t seen Adam play with Ian since May. He missed the CT show because he was touring with Sia, playing a string of sold-out shows in large venues (poor baby). He also got to listen to Ximena open for Sia every night (making him a lot luckier than most of us!).

AdamChristgau

Hearing Adam crush the drums on an Ian set is no surprise (but always a pleasure). Adam had an additional surprise for us. I’ve seen him tweet that he plays electric bass on occasion at Slane, where Martin Rivas holds Campfire shows. I never heard him mention anything about guitar. (That’s a white lie, I think he mentioned once on Twitter that he was playing some Dylan on acoustic guitar in his room.)

Last night, Adam played acoustic guitar on two numbers. First on Shorty, taking 1/2 of Mike Campbell’s role (Allie took the other 1/2, the singing part). Poor Mike Campbell was suffering on a beach in Aruba. I’m sure he would have preferred to be at Bowery Ballroom, if only he had a choice. Winking smile

AdamChristgauAcousticGuitar

On Amory, not only did Adam play the guitar (very nicely), but he also sang a bunch, completing the three-part harmony with Ian and Chad. This will add a new dimension to Ian and Chad’s sound if they start making more use of Adam this way. Bravo!

Chris Anderson on electric bass and background vocals. Chris was fantastic, as always. He also led the clapping on Leave Me Alone. Hearing that song in NYC is so different than anywhere else. In NYC, such a large proportion of the crowd knows the cool clapping part (and has Chris to make sure they know when to do it, not that we don’t). In other places, there are a few lonely clappers who typically give up quickly.

ChrisAnderson

Chris was also instrumental in the sing-a-long portion of Girl I Got a Thing.

Speaking of Girl I Got a Thing, when they play it in NYC, you never know what to expect. When Ian introduced the song, he said that he himself wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

Leiv Parton came out dressed like one of the Men in Black, sporting a tambourine and a drink. As the song built up, Chocky came out (as he usually does) and conked Leiv on the head with a bottle that shattered all over the stage. Leiv spent the remainder of the song sprawled out (lifelessly) on the stage. He was dragged off (with difficulty) after the song was over.

LeivPartonManInBlackManDown

At the last Bowery Ballroom show, Chocky was dressed in sweats. This time, he was a full-on cowboy gear. When he finished his whiskey, another Man in Black came out (sorry, I don’t know who it was) and he handed Chocky a replacement whiskey, then stood robotically for the remainder of the song.

ChockyChockyManInBlackChrisAnderson

It added a visual flair to a fantastic song. I shudder to imagine how they intend to top it next time!

After the show, we had to force Leiv to take a photo with me, to prove that he survived the on-stage attack. Winking smile

LeivPartonHadar

After playing their signature This is the New Year (killing it), everyone but Ian left the stage. Ian played Say Something, on the keyboards (he sometimes performs it on the ukulele). It was incredible, bringing a real hush to the large crowd. Great way to end the set.

Here’s the set list:

Gone
Leave Me Alone!!!!!!!!
Waltz
Rockstar
You’ll Be Okay
Shorty (acoustic w/ Adam)
Amory (acoustic w/ Adam)
Gold Digger
Girl I Got a Thing
This Is The New Year
Say Something (acoustic)

We shared this evening with a lot of friends. Here are but a few of them:

AxelsAndersonsElyseTerryHadar

RebeccaHavilandHadarAdiraRachel

ChadVaccarinoIanAxelHadar

Martin Rivas and Robbie Gil at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Martin Rivas was bringing his current Saturday Night residency at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 to a close last night (he’ll be touring Europe much of the summer). That would be reason enough to go see him (the last full-band show in NYC until late August or early September). But I’ll give you a better reason (even though you’re too late to act on it if you weren’t there), it was Martin’s Birthday!

In typical Martin style (his heart is bigger than any three of us mere mortals combined), he threw a party for the rest of us, rather than the other way around!

MartinRivas

Martin performed a set full of his original crowd favorites plus a few covers. Let’s give him none of the credit for that though. One of his birthday surprises was the set list itself. Martin didn’t get to peek at it until nearly show time. His band decided what songs Martin would have to play. Extremely cool idea on their part, well executed by everyone (Martin included). Since they are big fans of Martin as well, they were effectively making this a fan-driven set list.

MartinRivasBirthdaySetList

They had another surprise for him, which affected the entire set as well. They got him stinkin’ drunk (on top shelf hooch) before the show. I’ve never seen Martin wasted before, since he always has a long drive home after the shows. He announced (with another drink in hand!) that this was the first Rockwood show that he was going to be driven home from. Since his wife was in the audience, I presume that she was his designated driver. Perhaps the band also chipped in for a Limo (I can fantasize on Martin’s behalf, can’t I?). Smile

Martin was in excellent voice (which was a relief, since he’s been sick recently).

MartinRivasSinging

His guitar play was spot on as well (including an extremely tasty lead on an acoustic guitar, late in the set). During one song he popped a string. He played through the rest of the song without missing a beat (I saw the string fly away from the guitar when it happened).

When the song was over, he bestowed the honor of restringing it to Greg Mayo. It turned into a little bit on stage though, as it was the G string that popped. If you’re not following me, and some of the ensuing guffaws in the audience, that’s fine, as this is a PG-13 rated blog. Winking smile

A minute later, Greg emerged from the green room and informed Martin that he couldn’t repair it. I think I heard him say that the peg (the part that holds the string on the body of the guitar) came flying out as well. They took a quick look in front of Martin, didn’t spot it, and Martin decided to play the rest of the set without a guitar (no worries, there were two guitarists on stage with him throughout).

Greg being the clever guy that he is would have none of that. He returned a minute later with Robbie Gil’s guitar (Robbie headlined the set before, which I’ll cover later in this post). The tasty lead I mentioned above was performed on Robbie’s guitar, so thanks Greg for thinking of that, and Robbie for being willing to part with it (it was unbelievably worn/scratched, so it has to be one of Robbie’s favorites).

Martin got the crowd singing a few times (only once by asking us to). Even when people weren’t singing out loud, I saw so many people mouthing every word that Martin was singing. Most of his sets are like that, but there was definitely a special feeling in the air last night (I wonder why…).

Martin always has The Spirit in him. Since last night he also had the Spirits in him, he did something we often wish more performers would do on behalf of their fans/audience. He tried (with mixed success) a number of times to quiet the inevitable talkers. For the most part, he did it in the most loving way imaginable (seriously, he simply appealed to the talkers to listen quietly for one special song, then resume their talk about Stock Portfolios and Second Homes in the Hamptons!). Smile

One particularly annoying woman in the far corner yelled out “Hey, it’s SATURDAY NIGHT” (at the top of her lungs). Martin had a different kind of spirited response for her. The cheers and applause let him know that he was speaking for all us (well, I guess most of us). Here’s a Twitter exchange from a few minutes ago (as I am writing this) between Tony Maceli and Martin:

@martinrivas do you recall asking a young lady at Rockwood to ‘be quiet’ in a very un-Martin like way, followed by rousing applause?

@whosthebass did I do that?! Awesome!!!!! Hope it wasn’t too rude

Ah, reliving that moment this morning was sweet. Thanks Tony and Martin for making that happen. Smile

One last incident before we get back to the music (actually, the amazing band and guest!). Someone (I’d give them credit if I knew who) brought a lot of cupcakes (fancy ones from what I saw) to celebrate Martin’s birthday. One was passed to Martin on stage and we all sang Happy Birthday to him. Well, we started to, in a rag-tag disarrayed fashion. Martin made us all stop and said:

If you’re going to do this, then at least do it right. Ready? 1… 2… 3…

MartinRivasCoordinatingHappyBirthdaySong

That’s all it took to get us all on the right page. Thanks for that as well Martin. But that’s not the incident, I needed to relate that part so that you’d know there were a lot of cupcakes in the room. Winking smile

MartinRivasHappyBirthdayCupcake

One moron (yes, I spent hours considering the exact right word to describe this person) thought it would be funny to toss a cupcake on the stage. Of course, it landed icing side down on top of the electronic keyboard (somehow finding the most damageable thing it could on stage). It took time and effort to clean it off before the next song could start. Well done moron (sorry, it deserved repeating).

The band was amazing musically, but they were also the driving force in lifting Martin’s spirit even higher than usual (who knew that was even possible?). In combination with Martin, they turned an awesome show in a giant party as well (who doesn’t like a party?).

Left-to-right on the stage, followed by a very special guest appearance:

Patrick Firth on electronic keyboards and vocals. I’ve written about Patrick many times, but this was our third night in a row seeing him tickle the ivories brilliantly (each night with a different band!), so there’s a lot of ink about Patrick on the home page at the moment. It was his keyboards (the top one of the double-decker setup) that had the pleasure of hosting the upside-down cupcake.

PatrickFirthKeyboards

Ryan Vaughn on percussion. Ryan did a fantastic job (as he does whenever he sits in on Martin’s full-band shows) banging on everything in sight. Not only did he play his own toys (cowbells, tambourine, shakers, etc.), but a couple of times he got up and shared the drumming duties (two drummers playing the same drum set at the same time). Awesome! Ryan was the person who diligently cleaned Patrick’s keyboard after the cupcake fiasco.

RyanVaughnPercussion

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar and vocals. Chris shared the leads with the other guitarist, Greg Mayo. In addition to each being excellent in their own right, they feed off of and complement each other. I’ll have a bit more to say about Chris’ vocals in a minute. This was also the second time we’ve seen Chris this week. He was part of Ian Axel’s band on Tuesday and rocked out that night as well.

ChrisKuffnerGuitarLeadChrisJuffnerSinging

Craig Meyer on drums. Craig is always superb on the drums. Last night was no exception. In fact, if it’s possible, he rose to the occasion of wanting/needing to make this night a bit more special. After all, he’s Martin’s Baby Brother (if you haven’t been to one of Martin’s show, don’t bother looking up which one of them changed their last name, it’s Martin’s homage to how much he loves and respects Craig as a person and as his primary drumming partner!). This was our second time seeing Craig at Rockwood 2 this week.

CraigMeyerDrumsCraigMeyerTambourine

Brian Killeen on electric bass and vocals. Another excellent performance by Brian. As with Patrick Firth, this was our third consecutive night enjoying Brian’s play (they were in the same bands each night).

BrianKilleen

Greg Mayo on electric guitar and vocals. Since we saw Greg headlining a set that ended just 22 hours before Martin hit the stage, I’ll point you to that post to read my thoughts on this extraordinary musician. For the people at my table last night (you know who you are!), the looks we exchanged every time Greg took a lead will remain etched in my memory forever! I’ll have something to add when I cover Robbie Gil, since Greg (along with Patrick Firth and Ryan Vaughn) also played in that set.

GregMayoJamming

There weren’t any really slow songs last night, so it’s not surprising that this band kept such a steady level of energy that had practically everyone in the crowd swaying, dancing, bobbing, tapping, clapping, etc., throughout every song. The possible exception was the woman that Martin needed to slap down (sorry, I couldn’t resist one last cheap shot).

Bess Rogers was called up as a special guest. This is the song where Martin pleaded with people to be quiet (before his exchange with the woman, he was speaking to a different set of women at the bar). Martin knew why quiet would be necessary for the full enjoyment of what we were about to experience (we had no clue, or at least I didn’t).

Martin started singing, accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar, with Chris Kuffner  playing the electric, softly. Both Bess and Chris sang soft harmonies, not even that often. I admit (why do I always bare my soul here?) that I wondered for a second why Martin bothered to call Bess up. It seemed like he was wasting an opportunity to share her talent with the crowd.

Then the moment came. Both Martin and Chris stopped playing their guitars. Martin, Bess and Chris continued a capella in stunning three-part harmony. It was so breath-taking, even the talkers stopped (like seeing the burning bush, even non-believers have to at least wonder). Suddenly, Bess’ role in celebrating Martin’s birthday became crystal clear. Thanks!

ChrisKuffnerMartinRivasBessRogers

Bess and Martin are touring together (I assume with Chris as well). Folks, even if they just play this one three-minute song and leave the stage, get out to see them if/when they hit your town. With a little luck, they might stick around and dazzle you a bit more than that. Winking smile

At one point late in the show, Seth Faulk jumped on stage to join in the percussion merriment. A little later, Adam Christgau followed his lead and turned the merriment into a bit more percussion mayhem. Smile

GregMayoSethFaulkAdamChristgauClapping

Martin closed out the show with North. Such a soulful song to underscore the evening. He brought out a dancer (Whitney G-Bowley of GIG) to add a visual dimension to the song.

ChrisKuffnerMartinRivasWhitneyG-Bowley

When I say “closed the show”, of course, I mean pre-encore. For the encore, Martin brought out two additional special guests, Robbie Gil and Casey Shea (who was headlining the next set). Along with the full band, they performed Stand By Me, which included having the crowd sing the chorus (with them and separately!) a number of times. The party atmosphere was at its height!

What a spectacular way to end the show (rather than close the show). Winking smile

Since we were there for the set before Martin’s, I had time during the break between them to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, find and introduce myself to Christina Morelli. While she’s talented in many ways, I came to discover her through her passion for covering and promoting the NYC Art Scene. Subscribe there and follow her on Twitter.

Aside from her own excellent writing, she gives a voice, platform and exposure to many talented NYC-based artists. She also does interesting video interviews in collaboration with the effervescent Sam Teichman (whom you can also follow on Twitter). Want to know why you should follow Sam on Twitter? Consider this tweet from last night (sent during Martin’s set!):

Music is my religion. Rockwood Music Hall is my favorite place of worship. @martinrivas can be my spiritual leader anytime. So inspiring.

On to Robbie Gil! We’ve only seen Robbie perform one song, as a guest at a Big Apple Singers show. He was excellent. In fact, the song he led that night was the highlight of the set for me. Here’s an out-of-context quote from that post (but you can read the entire thing to really understand what I was saying):

Robbie kicked off another The Band song but insisted that each of the other band members sing at least one verse (that’s the song that Chris took a lead on). Robbie’s voice was wonderful as was his spirit on the stage. It’s the one exception I noted above to nearing the feeling I had on Wednesday.

We’ve missed Robbie Gil’s full sets three times now. The first one (mentioned in the above-linked post) was simply because I chose to see Derek James perform next door (and I’m choosing to see Derek James again this Wed, 8pm, Rockwood 1). The next two times I tried to see Robbie, the place was so crowded that the bouncer wouldn’t let me in. One of those nights was bitterly cold (and windy to boot), but I stood outside and suffered so that I could at least enjoy Martin’s set (they often follow each other). How could I not keep trying to see someone who was obviously so popular?

Well, I guess I have to thank New Yorkers need (or is it just desire?) to escape the city on holiday weekends. Third time’s the charm, as we got in to see Robbie. It was a large crowd, but not at capacity, like it was in my previous attempts.

Robbie is a soulful, gravelly-voiced singer (which is why he killed it when singing The Band song with The Big Apple Singers) that seems to drain every ounce of energy in his body on every song. Miraculously, he has some secret recharging source that gets him ready for the next song in the few seconds he has between them.

He played both grand piano (which he opened the show with) and acoustic guitar, very well. He also sang a bit without an instrument (but always with the band, with one exception I’ll note below).

RobbieGilPiano

Robbie performed a number of originals, mixed with covers, all well. Given the amount of passion he puts into every note, it’s sometimes hard to hear the words clearly, so I don’t have enough of a sense of him as a lyricist yet (with the same exception noted above).

What comes across most is his joy on stage, which he spreads like a warm blanket on a cold day over the audience. Pairing his sets with Martin’s is brilliant, both for the genre similarities (that will make an audience for one happily stick around for the other) and for the spiritual well-being projecting from the stage from each of them.

Robbie was accompanied by a full band on nearly every number. Three of the four band members played with Martin as well: Patrick Firth, Ryan Vaughn and Greg Mayo.

Patrick Firth played both electronic keyboards and grand piano (the grand piano was lifted off the stage for Martin’s set). As good as Patrick is on the electronic keyboards, I am even more taken by his play on the grand piano (it’s simply purer).

RobbieGilPatrickFirth

While singing one number, Robbie Gil stepped over to the far left corner of the stage and started playing four-handed piano with Patrick (he remained standing while playing!). We’ve seen this before (The Paper Raincoat’s Right Angles comes to mind), but with no disrespect to other piano players, this was the best I can recall. Awesome!

RobbieGilPatrickFirthBothPlayingPiano

Ryan Vaughn played the full drum set. I’ve heard nothing but praise for his drumming from so many people, but previous to this set I’ve only seen him play percussion to Craig Meyer’s drums. I can now confirm that those rumors of his skill were not exaggerated. He’s a wonderful drummer! Sorry about the red eye in the photo.

RyanVaughnDrums

I don’t have anything new to say about Greg Mayo’s guitar play (it was equally awesome in both sets), other than to note that he took much longer leads during Robbie’s set, partially because he wasn’t sharing the duties with Chris Kuffner.

GregMayoLeadGuitar

I’ll note two critical things:

  1. Robbie kneeled down a number of times when Greg was taking a solo, so that people on the opposite side of the stage could enjoy it visually as well as aurally. This was precisely the same type of classy move I praised Evan Watson for (in the same post linked above where we first saw Robbie sing!).RobbieGilKneeling
  2. Robbie heaped so much praise on Greg (repeatedly), that I felt certain he was actively campaigning for my position as President of the Greg Mayo Fan Club. BACK OFF ROBBIE, the job is taken! Winking smile

Lois ended up sitting right next to Robbie’s dad. Toward the end of the set Robbie gave him a shout out and the crowd enthusiastically gave him an ovation.

RobbieGilWithHisDadLookingOn

Nick Morrison on electric bass (the only additional band member, but I can’t find a good link to him). Very well done! Now I can finally get to the exception. Robbie dismissed all but Nick from the stage. He took to the piano and sang a new original number named I Believe. Nick accompanied him quietly and beautifully on the bass. Since it was a quiet song, we could hear the words clearly. Both Lois and I thought it was a really good song, so hearing more of his material is warranted.

NickMorrison

Robbie called up Martin Rivas to close his set and they sang Feeling Alright by Dave Mason. Of course, as with Martin’s Stand By Me, the crowd joined in for much of the song, included a few choruses of just the audience singing.

RobbieGilMartinRivasNickMorrison

Lois has a way of bending the universe to her will (if you know her, you know I’m not exaggerating!). The night before, when we were at Greg Mayo’s midnight set, Lois whispered to me “Ask Greg to play anything by Dave Mason!” (that’s the gospel truth!). I said: “While he’s doing covers tonight, they’re not requests, we’ll have to take whatever he gives us!”.

Obviously, Lois wasn’t satisfied with my answer, so she took matters into her own hands and found a way to force Robbie to satisfy her desire to hear a Dave Mason song performed live. Be afraid people, be very afraid… Winking smile

What an absolutely spectacular night.

We had fully intended to stay for Casey Shea next, since so many people have told me I need to get to know his music. We did hear the first three songs (all good!), but we left for two reasons: 1) His set started 75 minutes later than expected (I was ready to collapse rather than get wound even tighter) and 2) The volume doubled the minute they started, to an uncomfortable level. We’ll catch a set of Casey’s soon enough, I’m sure.

Ian Axel, The Spring Standards and Madi Diaz at Bowery Ballroom

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I tell everyone I meet that Ian Axel is magical. Since I don’t distinguish between people I’ve already told it to and newcomers to this fact, I am not surprised when people start running away as I approach. Winking smile

Until now, it has seemed subjective, but I finally have proof, to convince all of the skeptics. It was supposed to thunderstorm in NYC last night. It didn’t (Ian had a show headlining the Bowery Ballroom, so it would have been inconvenient for his fans if it had stormed). I see you shaking your heads in disbelief. Mere coincidence or luck (you say). Wrong!

As of yesterday afternoon, rain was predicted every single day (but one) for the next week+ (I know, my doorman showed me the weather on his iPhone!). Check the NYC weather today, and more importantly, the forecast for the next seven days. Only one day of possible rain (a complete reversal). First 80+ degree days as well.

All it took was getting Ian Axel to perform in NYC, with a full band (well, specifically his full band), and the weather is now perfect. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is! Smile

IanAxelSinging

It’s been 97 days since we’ve seen Ian with his band. We’ve seen Ian and Chad Vaccarino performing together three times in between, as recently as 16 days ago, so don’t worry about any deep withdrawal. Ian’s solo shows and his performances with Chad are magical as well. That said, even though the set lists are often the same, the experiences are dramatically different (both great in their own way).

I have a few nits to pick as well (not about any of the music last night), but you’ll have to read nearly to the bottom if you are interested (no cheating and skipping ahead!).

You can spend an entire day on this site reading everything I’ve written about Ian in the past. I won’t repeat too much of it here.

In addition to playing a more typical (fantastic) Ian Axel set, there were a reasonable number of surprises. At the top of the list was the debut of two new songs: Rockstar and Golddigger (perhaps it’s two words). We’ve seen them performed once before at North Star Bar in Philly, but this was the fist time they were ever played live with a full band. I’ll wager a few dollars that there are still a few audience members who haven’t yet recovered from having their minds blown. At least we had a bit of warning from the duo show. Smile

Pacific Sun was performed very differently. All five band members were clustered together. Chris Kuffner created an organ-like sound on his electric guitar (adding a cool/eerie flavor to the song) and all five sang the chorus together. Excellent.

IanAxelChadVaccarinoAdamChristgauChrisAndersonChrisKuffnerPacificSun

Since I mentioned Chris Kuffner above, let me mention each band member briefly before continuing with the surprises.

Chad Vaccarino was tucked away in the far left-hand corner of the stage. He had a double-decker electronic keyboard setup and was mostly creating organ sounds to complement Ian’s piano sounds. He broke out the trumpet for Hangman and one or two others, to great effect.

ChadVaccarinoSinging

Adam Christgau on drums. We used to see Adam play with various bands (including Ian’s) a couple of times a week. We were quickly spoiled and expected to see him as often going forward, and have other drummers live up to his standard. Then all of sudden, poof, Adam started traveling more and for longer periods, so we don’t get to see him as often. I savor ever single strike of his sticks whenever I can.

AdamChristgauDrums

Last night was no exception, but it wasn’t a robotic reproduction of his previous play either. His fills during the epic This is the New Year varied quite a bit, at some critical moments. I enjoyed it, but my ears were expecting the fills I’ve come to love and it caught me by surprise. For those that are curious, the changes were to a more understated drum pattern, less focus on Adam. Nice, but bring back the more dramatic version, please.

AdamChristgau

Chris Anderson on electric bass. I seem to write about Chris a lot as well, since he plays with a number of bands that we can’t get enough of (I wonder if Chris deserves any credit for that?). Winking smile He was wonderful last night as well. Later, in the nit-picking section, I’ll have a bit more to say (very positive) about the difference between Chris’ play last night and the bassists who were on stage before him.

ChrisAnderson

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar. Chris was great as he always is. In addition to the organ effects mentioned above, he also effectively used the slide. But, his best work last night was actually in the set before, so I’ll save that for a bit and describe it where it belongs.

ChrisKuffnerSlideGuitar

Now that the core band has received its due, I can continue with the surprises, which largely involved guests (but not entirely).

Ian brought out Dan Romer, who played accordion on a couple of numbers. Dan produced Ian’s CD (This is the New Year) with the exception of the title song (he is credited with producing the piano track on that song as well). Dan is an icon in the NY music scene (on many levels). Having him on stage is more of a huge Thank You from Ian than a necessary addition to the sound.

DanRomerAccordion

If you’ve been to Ian’s NYC shows in the past, you know exactly what happens when he plays Girl I Got a Thing. It happened last night too, but with some twists. Normally, when Ian starts the song, Glenn Chocky climbs on stage and does his thing (read any of my other NYC-based Ian posts to know what that thing is).

Last night, Ian actually called Chocky up before starting the song. Obviously, we knew what song was about to be played, but clearly there was going to be a twist. First, Chocky came out in a red sweatsuit (track suit). Next, he was carrying a gym bag which he laid on the stage. Third, instead of his signature bourbon in a glass, he had two of them, in plastic cups.

ChockyTrackSuit

Chocky had a surprise in the gym bag. When it came close to the time to shake my tambourine, Chocky opened the bag and started tossing tambourines into the crowd. His timing wasn’t perfect as he got to his a beat or two later than he usually does. It still created a memorable moment. Hundreds of us joined Ian and the band in singing the “Na na na na, Whoah wo” part repeatedly as well.

That wasn’t the last surprise of the song though. Toward the end of the song a Blues Brother’s looking guy walked onto the stage carrying a gong held by a rope (he had white gloves on). He held it unwaveringly, center stage, as Chocky banged the hell out of it for the rest of the song. Smile

ChockyStrikingGong

Another surprise was an added twist to one of Ian’s standards, Waltz. Toward the end of the song they broke out their version of I Want You (She’s So Heavy), returning to finish it off with the end of Waltz.

Ian dismissed the band for one song, removed his glasses and played a perfect version of Say Something.

IanAxelSingingSaySomething

The rest of the surprises came during the encore. Of course there was an encore! I can’t do justice to describing the electricity in the very large crowd throughout the set. Surely, Ian wasn’t getting out of the building without coming back when the set was over.

He returned by himself and played You’ve Got a Friend in Me by Randy Newman. Ian joked (or perhaps he was serious) on Twitter about starting a Randy Newman cover band. Last night he started it off perfectly, without an actual band (or rather, he was a band of one!).

He called the band out when he was done and they performed You’ll Be OK. During the song, Dan Romer came out and shared the mic with Chad (who was center stage, leading the awesome vocal mayhem). A minute later, Chocky came out and eventually settled on Ian’s bench. He mimed the key phrases, pointing at the crowd (letting us know that We’ll Be OK). Thanks Chocky. Now we will be!

ChadVaccarinoDanRomerChockyIanAxel

I was pretty sure that would be the end (and what a high-note ending it would have been). But no, there’s more!

After Dan and Chocky left the stage, Mike Campbell appeared. Everyone knew exactly what song was about to be played. For those of you playing the home version, it was Shorty Don’t Wait. Smile

MikeCampbellIanAxelChadVaccarino

Mike picked up an acoustic guitar and Ian returned to the ukulele (that he played on Pacific Sun). Chad took the mic at center stage (he kicks off the song). It all started as amazingly as you could hope/expect. After the first verse, there’s a dramatic pause in the music as Chad launches into an incredible vocal beginning to verse #2. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

For the first time in my experience, Chad lost the words for a second. It turned into quite a funny moment as nearly everyone on stage broke down laughing (Chad most of all!). The audience ate it up as well. Chad wanted to pick it up exactly from that point, but Ian would have none of that. As if to punish Chad (I’m kidding), but more importantly to thrill the crowd with an extra verse, Ian insisted they start from the beginning. Thanks Ian, that was the correct call! Smile

From the second Ian walked onto the stage, until the second he walked off, the people all around me (we were right up at the stage) were in a state of rapture (that’s an honest description, and my one and only homage to the numerous hilarious Twitter comments I enjoyed for the past two weeks).

The Spring Standards were co-billed with Ian and appeared right before him. There’s something very fresh about The Spring Standards that isn’t just about their excellent music. They are inventive, passionate, talented people who blend together really well. It’s near impossible not to get sucked into their energy (not that I noticed anyone in the crowd trying to avoid being pulled in!).

I don’t know their music so I won’t rattle off song names (like I can and do with Ian). I’ll attempt to describe what I meant in my adjectives above, but first, who are they? Left-to-right on the stage:

James Cleare on acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica, drums, electric bass and vocals (no doubt I left off a dozen other amazing things he did). He’s an excellent singer (more on that later) and a really good guitarist as well (leads on acoustic and electric were really well done).

JamesCleare

Heather Robb on electronic keyboards, drums, percussion, melodica and vocals. Heather is often the visual focal point of The Spring Standards both because she is the constant fixture center stage (the other two swap spots on the edges, often) and because she has enough energy to power the energizer bunny for decades. She sings many of the leads. She’s very impressive in every respect save one.

HeatherRobb

She puts so much power into everything she does, that while she hits every note, more than occasionally, her voice sounds strained. That might actually make her voice more appealing to some, because it’s different, but I’m used to hearing people with more control over their vocals and I notice the difference.

James Smith (I can’t find a good individual link) on electric bass, acoustic guitar, drums, vocals and likely others. Like James Cleare, James Smith has a very good voice and plays all of his instruments well.

JamesSmithGuitarDrumsSetup

Noah Goldman (also no good link) supported The Spring Standards on nearly every song, standing or sitting right behind them. He used to be their road manager (might still be). He played pedal steel, acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass and once or twice banged the daylights of some cymbals and a drum. He did a very nice job on everything, bringing a dancing energy that matches up well with the rest of the group.

NoahGoldman

So, aside from their music, what makes them so interesting?

They take a full drum set and split it apart, putting the various pieces in three separate areas on the stage. The kick drum and some other parts are on the right hand side (where James Smith spends most of his time, but James Cleare is there a reasonable amount as well). High hat cymbal and some other drum parts on the left. The rest of the kit is on either side of Heather, behind the keyboards, with some cymbals and a drum to the right of the keyboards (so that everyone, including Heather, can easily reach that, including Noah).

HeatherRobbKeyboardsDrumsSetup

It’s quite interesting to watch James Smith playing the electric bass and singing, while realizing that the perfectly timed kick drum is being operated by him at the same time. Similarly, watching James Cleare play guitar and harmonica while operating the high hat cymbal tells me that their brains operate more interestingly (if not efficiently) from mine.

Heather does a ton of drumming with sticks and brushes, all while weaving in very good keyboard play. It’s all a joy to watch.

The three of them sing extremely well together. I need to listen to their songs at home to learn them better so that I can enjoy that aspect of their show even half as much as the people around me. There were similar trances (in the most positive sense) on the faces around me as there were for Ian’s set. The other similarity is that everyone seemed to know every word to every song with the exception of the brand new ones (yes, The Spring Standards broke out new material, just like Ian did).

The Spring Standards are extremely well matched to play a show with Ian Axel (well done, whoever thought of pairing them!). So much so, that the next thing I describe was one of the highlights of the night (for me).

As you may know, musicians all over are celebrating Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. He has obviously inspired more singer/songwriters than most, so it’s natural for people to want to salute him, at the least.

The Spring Standards invited Ian and his band (including Dan Romer) on stage and they performed Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. Everyone sang the chorus simultaneously (all nine people on stage plus most of the audience). James Cleare sang most of the lead (Heather joined him on a couple of verses).

James did a fantastic job. He donned sunglasses, had the harmonica holder and played acoustic guitar. There were a few phrases that were extremely close-sounding to Dylan, without the typical over-the-top impersonations where someone’s trying to be more like Frank Caliendo doing Dylan than an honest singer songwriter becoming a little more Dylan-esque.

JamesCleareAsBobDylan

Toward the end of the song Chad Vaccarino came out of the wings, trumpet in hand, and took a simple, but perfect solo. That brought the stage total to 10.

ChadVaccarinoTrumpetIShallBeReleased

In the middle of the song, Chris Kuffner took an absolutely amazing lead. It had a single flaw in it, it was too short. That was a missed opportunity for whoever was running the song to turn to Chris (in amazement) and give him the signal that he simply had to take another turn on the lead guitar.

Anyway, it was so excellent, that when Ian’s band left the stage, Heather correctly joked that perhaps they should have considered closing their set with that number. Anything else might feel anti-climactic now. They played another two or three songs. While they didn’t necessarily have the drama of everyone on stage, there was really no letdown in the final numbers. When The Spring Standards left the stage, it was completely triumphant, with the crowd screaming their heads off.

Here is the set list from The Spring Standards:

SpringStandardsSetList

Madi Diaz opened the show with a full band. She sings (beautifully) and played both electric and acoustic guitar.

MadiDiaz

Madi just recently signed with the same label that Ian is signed with, tinyOGRE. As I type this, she still isn’t listed on their site, but I’m (reasonably) sure it will happen soon enough. Having her open for Ian and The Spring Standards was a good move to get her better recognition in NYC (she’s based in Nashville).

I was completely unaware of Madi’s music before last night. Many were upbeat catchy pop-style numbers, but there were slower ones to mix it up as well. Even the slower numbers had a deliberate beat which made them feel less folky.

Madi’s voice is excellent. She’s roughly 25-years-old. I would describe her voice as sweet (that’s not a negative, but is the only word I can think of to say that somehow, she sounds more like a 16 or 17-year-old who has an excellent voice, rather than someone whose voice sounds more mature, not necessarily better).

Given that she came onto the stage at 8:02pm (I really like that Bowery started the show on time!), the crowd was much thinner than it was later for The Spring Standards and Ian Axel. Even so, most of the people there knew every word to every Madi Diaz song. Her fans were very passionate, often making her smile (but never losing her composure) when they yelled silly things to her.

I’ll mention the band in my usual order, left-to-right on the stage. It has a bit more significance this time, because that’s also the order they contributed to the success of Madi’s set last night (in my opinion). I also have to apologize in advance if I got the drummer’s name wrong. Other than clearly hearing the first guy (and being unable to mistake him once you search, as you’ll see), Madi rattled off the other names in a nearly inaudible manner. I would swear she never even named the keyboard player (I’ll explain below why that’s important).

Kyle Ryan on guitar and vocals. It turns out that Kyle Ryan is actually the second half of Madi Diaz! Confused? Don’t be. In addition to having the name Madi Diaz, the group itself is actually called Madi Diaz as well (I didn’t know that until I looked her up), consisting of Madi (the person) and Kyle Ryan. They write together (much as Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino write together).

KyleRyan

Kyle plays the guitar really well and sings well too. It took a while to realize he sings well, mostly because it felt like he was whispering into his mic. Two guys standing behind me yelled a number of times to him that he should sing louder (that’s what I was thinking, but I’m too old to yell that out, much as I’d like to). Winking smile

Somehow, either they, or Kyle himself caught the attention of the sound guy, who turned up Kyle’s mic a bit (not enough to be at parity with Madi’s voice, but loud enough to tell that their harmony was nice and Kyle can sing).

Adam Popick on drums. Adam was never flashy, even when a song would have allowed it (let alone called for it). That said, my respect for him grew on every song. He was quite an integral part of the sound of each song. Keeping such an excellent and interesting beat, without ever being the focus of attention (except for mine, because I pay a lot of attention to drummers).

AdamPopick

I just looked up his touring schedule, and it seems he plays with some pretty big acts (and opens for a lot of even bigger ones). Clearly, Adam is a very talented musician (I think he plays bass as well, perhaps more often than drums, but I’m not sure).

Bass Player (electric). I just gave up trying to find his name, sorry, but I did work at it. He was fine, but very straight up, nothing that made me pay attention to him (other than a related topic in my nitpicking section).

MadiDiazBassPlayer

I have no idea who the keyboard player was. At the end of her set, Madi mentioned that her normal keyboard player quit 24 hours earlier. She was raving that this guy learned the material in under 24 hours and traveled to play with them. From the beginning of the set, I was thinking that he was barely noticeable (there were a few exceptions) and hardly integral to the sound. I am reasonably sure Madi never named him.

MadiDiazKeyboardPlayer

So, I’m not holding anything against him, or judging his skill. Clearly, he never got a chance to play with them. But, for my taste, Madi Diaz would have been fine with just Madi, Kyle and Adam.

Here is Madi’s set list:

MadiDiazSetList

All in all (even with the nitpicking section to follow immediately), it was one of the more amazing evenings of music in recent memory (and we’ve had many).

I need to put the nitpicking in context. There’s a difference in pointing out things that could stand (or even just benefit from) improvement, vs things that are awful (where the word improvement doesn’t really apply). It’s all a matter of context and relative degrees. Given how great the show was in general, these complaints fall under the category of “should be fixed”, not “ruined my experience”.

On the positive side, the guy who was running the stage (he sat in a booth way above the stage, deep in the left-hand side of the stage, was totally on top of every physical issue and he pounced on them immediately. Early on, he noticed that Adam Popick’s kick drum was sliding forward with each kick (I didn’t notice). He ran down the stairs from his booth, grabbed something like a sand bag from the side and placed it in front of the kick drum feet so that it stopped moving. Very impressive. He continued jumping on problems throughout the show in an efficient manner.

On the negative side, mic volumes weren’t handled as well, as smoothly, or as quickly. I already gave the example where the crowd needed to point out that Kyle was dramatically under-mic’ed. That continued throughout the show, all three sets. Mic’s were turned down when they weren’t in use (good, smart). When someone stepped up to them later on, it often took a full verse for the sound engineer to notice and get it to the correct level (sometimes, it never got correct, but at least became audible).

Chad Vaccarino was plagued by a number of mic mishaps, since he moves around on the stage a lot and switches mic’s. What a shame. He has one of the most special voices around (on a number of levels) and we were cheated out of the first few words more often than I care to remember.

That was a tolerable problem, because it didn’t last long and you were then lost in the vocals once they got it right.

The biggest problem, and I’m not sure where to lay the blame, was the general insane volume of the bass for much of the night.

I mentioned that the first bass player was very “straight up” (which is fine). What wasn’t fine was that he overwhelmed most of the other sounds nearly every time he played a note. This included full-on buzzing at times. Of course, the floor shook (a ton) with every note as well. If he were an extraordinary bassist, it still would have been wrong (even bad), but it might have been interesting as well, which it wasn’t.

I don’t know if it was the Bowery Ballroom sound guy, or the bass player himself cranking his amp and bass to unreasonable levels. I have no idea what it sounds like on the stage. Perhaps the monitor engineer had the levels better set so that it sounded good on stage, but horrible to the audience.

The Spring Standards share the electric bass duties. Both James’ and Noah play the bass at various times. None of them is fancy either (again, fine), with all three doing a nice job. Nice, with the exception that 80% of the time, their bass also overwhelmed the other instruments. One of the nicest songs The Spring Standards performed was when both James’ were on acoustic guitar. Everything was so clean and pleasant. A correctly leveled bass would not have detracted from any of the other songs.

I mentioned above that I would praise Chris Anderson down here. As far as bass playing goes, Chris was dramatically more interesting on every single bass line than the others, combined. But, what was more interesting (shocking) to me was that for the first half of Ian’s set, he was also at a much more reasonable volume (still quite loud, but no distortion).

Then, mysteriously, in the second half of the set, he too became too loud (while maintaining fantastic bass lines, so I was correct in stating above that if you’re going be too loud, you better be interesting as well!). Did Chris change something, or did the sound guy wake up and wonder why the bass wasn’t killing everyone in the front half of the room? We may never know…

Anyway, rather than ruining the show, all it did was make me think about things I shouldn’t have noticed. This was an awesome show that simply could have been much better.

I mentioned above that we’ve seen Ian and Chad three times in a row without the full band. One of those shows was at Jammin’ Java in VA. Another was in Philly. At each of those shows, we brought friends who had never seen them. In both cases our friends fell in love with them. One of our VA friends flew up just to catch this show. Our two Philly friends took the bus up. All three of them left early this morning to return to their normal lives. All three were thankful to have made the effort to soak in last night’s experience.

Before heading to the show, we had an awesome Mexican meal with our out-of-town guests. Note that the two of us on the ends are both proudly wearing our Ian Axel T-Shirts.

HadarOutOfTowners

When the show was first announced, we bought our tickets the day they were available online. I know for a fact that we bought the fourth and fifth tickets sold. At the show (actually in line before the doors opened) we saw Lindsie, who organized the amazing house concert that Ian and Chad performed at in VA. She showed me her ticket and it was #3 sold. Inside, we ended up standing with Lindsie and Alison (another Ian fan whose tweets I’ve seen many times). While I didn’t check Alison’s ticket, I’ll bet it was one of the first sold as well. It’s a badge of honor for a true fan to get tickets early and spend a long time anticipating the great night out!

HadarLindsie

We ran into so many friends at the show it was almost comical. Here are some photos of people that Lois forced to pose for the blog:

AmyRivardElyseShannonTerryElyse

LindsieAlisonMelissaTongJimSamTeichmanKelly

After the show was over, I found myself standing next to none other than Derek James (of Derek James and the Lovely Fools). We chatted for a bit about how absolutely incredible the show was. I made sure to tell Derek that we would be at his show next Wednesday, June 1st, 8pm, Rockwood 1. The original Lovely Fools (Roy Gurel and Assaf Spector), both of whom were away the last time we saw Derek, will be back this time.

If you’re in NYC next Wed, and don’t show up for this set, you have no idea what damage you’re doing to your immortal soul. Come, experience the outrageous fun that is a Derek James and the Lovely Fools set. You won’t regret it! Smile

Ian Axel, Greg Holden and Julia Nunes at the Studio at Webster Hall

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This night couldn’t come fast enough for us. We bought tickets the minute they went on sale (we like to believe they were the first four sold, so don’t burst our bubble if you know differently).

Ian Axel just released a new CD (well, at the moment it’s digital downloads only, but the physical CD is coming soon), called This Is The New Year. The NY CD Release Show was last night at the Studio at Webster Hall and Ian tweeted in advance that he’d be playing the entire album in order.

The show was sold out and there are only roughly 10 seats around the edges, so there were 300+ people standing packed like sardines throughout the night. There were two opening acts making it a long night of standing for us old folks. Q: Would we do it again? A: Seven nights a week! Smile

Rather than post a set list, I’ll point you to where you can buy the CD, since the track listing is what was played last night (with the exception of the encore). Here it is on Amazon first (my preferred place to buy MP3’s). Here it is on iTunes. It’s the same price (currently) on both, $7.99, but there’s a different bonus track on each service, so that too might sway your decision as to where to buy it. There are gorgeous liner notes in a downloadable PDF in iTunes. I don’t know if they come in the Amazon flavor, so that too might be a factor in your decision.

Ian came out with the full band with one new twist. In addition to the drums, bass and guitar, Chad Vaccarino was tucked away in a dark corner behind Ian played a double-decker electronic keyboards (from what I could hear, largely an organ sound to complement Ian’s piano sound on his electronic keyboards).

IanAxelChadVaccarino

In the very old days (yes, they’re still only 25, at least for another month!) Chad only used to sing. More recently, he has added his trumpet playing skills to a number of songs. On a few numbers last night, Chad played both the trumpet and the keyboards! This adds a new dimension. Very well done!

IanAxelChadVaccarinoTrumpet

After playing Leave Me Alone and Afterglow (knocking them out of the park, of course), the band left the stage. Ian played Gone, solo. It’s a very moving song in general, but given that we were standing inches from Ian’s mom and a few feet from her twin sister, the emotions in our vicinity were running a little higher than usual.

IansMomHadar

It’s a tribute to Ian’s overwhelming talent that he can electrify a crowded room with a full band and not lose a single audience member when switching to a heart-tugging solo number.

IanAxelSinging

The band came back out for The Music that Haunts this Town with a surprise guest in tow. Dan Romer came out with an accordion and joined Ian for consecutive numbers, rejoining again later. While the accordion was a fun addition to the sound, it wasn’t about adding an accordion sound that caused Ian to invite Dan on stage.

DanRomerAccordion

Ian told us that Dan produced the album (the title track was produced by John Alagia, with Dan getting credit for producing the piano on that track as well). Dan produced the rest. Dan also produced the original version of This is the New Year and while Alagia added some things, he stayed reasonably true to Dan’s vision. It was a wonderful way for Ian to thank Dan and ensure that everyone knew who made this album sound as good as it does!

DanRomer

When Dan left the stage, Chad Vaccarino came front and center and everyone in the room knew what was about to happen. Not only because we knew the order of the show, but because the electricity in the room became even more palpable. The title song was about to be played. If you weren’t there, I have no words to describe what was going on at Webster Hall. Suffice it to say that Ian and Chad could have healed the sick if they touched their foreheads right after that song. Smile

ChadVaccarinoChadVaccarinoSinging

IanAxelChadVaccarinoSingingTogether

After keeping the blood pumping with Hangman, the band again left the stage. Ian played Cannonball solo, again tugging at everyone’s heart.

When the band returned for Girl I Got a Thing, another special guest joined. Glenn Chocky joined to perform his usual ritual during this song (a staple at Ian’s NY shows). Chocky drinks burboun (or scotch, etc.) on stage while Ian sings. He has two jobs, both of which he nails. 1) Shake a tambourine when Ian sings “You make me wanna shake my tambourine.” (the crowd goes nuts!) and 2) lead the crowd in singing back “Girl I got a thing for you” in response to Ian singing it. Chocky often gets the crowd to clap as well, so he really has three jobs. I am not sure whether the drinking is part of the job or just his compensation. Winking smile

ChockyDrinkingChockyTambourine

It’s a shame that Chocky probably can’t afford to go on tour with Ian just to perform this one song. The crowds in other cities are missing out on a bit of fun.

The setup changed again for Pacific Sun. Ian took center stage with his ukulele. Chad moved to Ian’s keyboards (sitting down) but didn’t play. He sang harmony and lead on a verse as well. Whenever the two of them sing together the already magical numbers/performance rises to a new level.

IanAxelUkulele

After playing We Are (back in the normal band configuration), Ian mentioned that it had been ages since he’d performed that. It’s clearly an emotional song for him.

One last time, the band left the stage and Ian closed the show (and album) with Say Something on the keyboards. Another wildly emotional tug at our heartstrings. On the iTunes version of the album, the bonus track is a ukulele version of this song.

Of course there was going to be an encore. Everyone returned to the stage, including Dan Romer and Glenn Chocky. Chad took center stage and Ian announced that they would play You’ll Be Okay (a crowd favorite). He explained that he and Chad co-write most of the material, but that they went a year without writing after Say Something. When they finally sat down to write again, You’ll Be Okay was born. Thank goodness they started writing again! What a way to close the show!

I can’t end the Ian section without writing about his amazing band. I’ve already mentioned that Ian mesmerizes all on his own, but I have to tell you that the full band is a mandatory experience, if you have the chance!

All three members of the band are top-notch musicians, but more importantly (from our perspective) is that all three are absolutely incredible people. You’d want to hang out with each of them even if they couldn’t play a note.

Adam Christgau on drums and light vocals. Adam is one of our favorite drummers (I’ve said it often, I’ll say it again, deal with it!). He was perfect last night. I’ve recently written about two other amazing drummers, Josh Dion and Vinnie Sperrazza. In both of those cases, I wrote that their drumming on each song was better than their solos.

AdamChristgauDrums

To extend that, Adam didn’t take any solos last night. But, I believe that if you recorded Adam’s drums last night, and cut out all other sounds completely so that you were just listening to his drum track, you would be listening to one of the best drum solos ever. In other words, his normal drumming on Ian’s songs are full-out gorgeous drum solos, which just happen to perfectly fit with the rest of Ian’s songs and band.

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Simply amazing. The fact that Adam is the person most responsible for us discovering Ian Axel to begin with (both in a roundabout and direct way!), makes it all the more satisfying to hear him complement Ian’s sound so well.

Chris Anderson on electric bass and light vocals. Another of our favorites (we’ve seen him a number of times in the past couple of weeks). He’s always excellent, but his fit with Ian’s music and style make his appearances with Ian the best. Last night the bass was at the right volume, but at the same time, every note shook Webster Hall to it’s core. The bass never overwhelmed any other instrument, but my pants were vibrating and a rush of air hit my chest every time Chris played a note.

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Chris Kuffner on electric guitar and vocals. While Adam and Chris Anderson sing a bit of backup vocals (Girl I Got a Thing for You, for example), last night, Chris Kuffner took a more prominent role. On at least two numbers (Pacific Sun most notably), Chris sang full-on three-part harmony with Ian and Chad. It’s a role often reserved for a different guest star, Mike Campbell. Chris nailed it.

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Chris is also a top guitarist (and bassist), but on most of Ian’s songs, it’s hard for me to pick out the guitar lines. There was at least one very notable exception, where Chris got the guitar to sound exactly like an organ. It was cool and eerie at the same time.

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It was incredible to watch/hear so many people in the audience singing along with every word. I’m not surprised that Ian’s fans know his songs so well, that’s a given. What’s cool is seeing their joy at having a chance to sing those songs with him.

To sum it all up, awesome! Much of the crowd hung around afterward to say hi to the performers, buy stuff, get things signed and pick up one of the 150 signed posters that Ian was giving away. Lois bought a T-Shirt (new style just out that day) and got a poster. Many people just mingled to not let the glow fade too quickly by leaving the place.

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Greg Holden opened the show. Greg is releasing a new CD in April and played a number of songs from it, including some of his previously recorded favorites as well. For the most part, he played solo accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar. He had some guests that I’ll cover in a minute.

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The show could have started off disastrously for Greg, but he turned a problem into an interesting solution, without missing a beat. Half way through his opening number he moved slightly and somehow, lost the amplification on his guitar. It was obvious, but he didn’t panic or stop the song to figure out what was wrong.

After trying quickly to jiggle the cable (again, without missing a beat in his vocals), he pushed the guitar onto his back and finished the second half of the song a cappella. He did a great job, including maintaining all of the long-ish pauses where he might have played some guitar (very brave and very well done) in order to keep the song and pacing completely authentic. He turned a potential mishap into a crowd-winning maneuver. Very professional and well executed.

When the song was over, he figured out that the cable itself was bad. He switched cables and didn’t have any issues for the remainder of his set.

New cable: $1.98. Not missing a beat when discovering a bad cable: Priceless! Winking smile

After playing a couple of songs solo, Greg invited up one of our favorite violin players, Melissa Tong. She played two songs with Greg, and returned for two more later in the set.

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Melissa’s fills between Greg’s verses were amazing. Very classical in nature, complementing Greg’s guitar play and the melodies in a way that made the two of them sound very compelling together.

After the show I asked Melissa if Greg sent her a score to follow (I figured he might have violin parts from his upcoming CD recordings). Amazingly, she said “No, he emailed me the tracks he wanted me to play on, and I improvised those parts.”. Folks, she got the tracks that morning and was teaching violin lessons during the day. If you don’t understand why we think so highly of Melissa, you never will.

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I want to give Greg the credit for thinking of her to begin with (since they never played together before!) and for being brave enough to risk something cringe-worthy in order to achieve what he had hoped he would!

Greg closed his set with all of Ian’s band (including Ian) joining him on stage. In addition, the act following him (to be named in a second) and Melissa Tong were on stage as well, to sing his signature number, Bar On A. The crowd sings the chorus along with everyone on stage and I always enjoy it as I did last night.

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Julia Nunes was next up. Julia played all but two numbers solo, accompanying herself on two different ukuleles. She has a very powerful and clean voice and some of her lyrics struck me as insightful and well put together. Oh yeah, she’s only 22-years-old (that will become more relevant in a moment).

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First, she’s a YouTube sensation. Videos that Jullia has uploaded have collectively been viewed more than 43 million times! Second, quite a percentage of the audience last night were huge Julia Nunes fans. I was amazed that dozens of people (OK, mostly young girls, but they’re people too!) Winking smile sang every word to every song, from the first note, out loud (and very well, they could join her as a professional chorus!).

Second, and by far the most impressive to me about Julia’s set is her stage presence. 22-year-olds aren’t supposed to have that kind of poise on stage. Her style is forceful and cheeky (I’ll give an example in a minute) and it doesn’t/won’t appeal to everyone. I’m not judging the style, but rather the ability to pull off any style (she gets to choose!) and I think she has what it takes to completely own a stage.

Here’s but one example (Julia bantered quite a bit): She said that she was about to play a song (it was a cover) that would sound ridiculous if the crowd didn’t sing with her (actually, do their part). She said that if she wasn’t impressed with our singing, she’d walk off the stage and give us the finger. Hysterical to some, crude (at best) to others. Thankfully for all of us, the crowd did indeed sing their hearts out and we were spared the indignity of getting the finger from Julia…

On one number, Julia invited up Ian, Greg and Adam to sing harmony with her. Greg did the majority of the harmony, but Ian and Adam pitched in nicely as well. When Julia continued to play the ukulele during that number, Greg was barely audible and Ian and Adam not even. But, toward the end of the song, Julia stopped playing and all four voices came together beautifully for a very powerful ending!

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I enjoyed the set for the most part and I certainly see the talent (which obviously has many years to grow and mature). But, as much as I like the ukulele as an instrument, merely strumming it for 10-straight songs doesn’t hold my musical interest and the songs themselves (at least the originals) often blended in my mind. Her fans would completely disagree with me and I honestly get why. We’re just at different stages in life.

A few more random photos of some friends and musicians, who are huge Ian Axel fans as well. Smile

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Alex Wong and Guests at Rockwood Music Hall

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It’s been a month since we’ve seen Alex Wong perform at Rockwood Music Hall. It’s not good to go much more than a month between doses of Alex, so it’s good that he had a show last night. Winking smile

In fact, after seeing his solo show at Rockwood 1 on December 9th, we saw him sit in for one song with Alex Berger at Rockwood 2 on the 13th. That night, they performed a song they had written that weekend (and just finished up the morning of the show!), called The Fighter. I wrote about how beautiful a song it is.

Alex opened last night’s show with that song, solo this time, at the piano. As much as I like the song, it also immediately reminded me of the fact that our beloved Alex Berger is now too many thousands of miles away, back in merry old England, leaving us less merry in these old United States…

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Next Alex invited Rachel Platten to join him. Rachel played the piano and Alex the guitar. They played a song they co-wrote about Alex’s first Christmas in NYC (one he spent here not by choice!). It’s a wonderful song called Make It Home. We’ve seen Alex perform it solo a number of times, but this is the first time we got to see Alex perform it with Rachel, harmonies included.

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The song is special for another reason. Alex and Rachel have made the song available for purchase at Bandcamp. It costs (a minimum of) $2.25 (please feel free to donate more, we did!). 100% of the proceeds go to City Harvest. The production quality is superb (no surprise, Alex is one of the best producers around!). You’ll get a great song and be donating to a very worth charity. Just do it, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself and have the music to enjoy for years to come!

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Next Alex invited Melissa Tong and David Fallo to join him. I’ve written about both many times. Suffice it to say that any string section in any style of music would be instantly enhanced if either Melissa or David joined them. Both at the same time? Dream time!

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But wait, there’s more! I purposely left out one thing about Make It Home above because it fits better here. One of our favorite drummers is Adam Christgau. Adam was supposed to leave for a tour in Australia, yesterday morning. On Tuesday, his flight was canceled preemptively due to the anticipated snow storm (that wasn’t much of a storm after all). So, Adam was stranded in NYC (much as Alex had been in 2004, for different reasons). Alex dedicated Make It Home to Adam, who happened to be in the audience for Alex’s show.

With Melissa and David on stage, Alex coaxed Adam to join them to play the drums. Since Adam was there as a guest, he didn’t have his equipment with him. No worries. Seth Faulk, another top local drummer handed Adam his cymbals (Rockwood has the core drum set) and his brushes. Thanks Seth!

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With that, Alex proceeded to right a wrong that he perpetrated on his audience a month ago. As I mentioned in the post about that show, Alex teased us by playing the intro to Brooklyn Blurs (one of our favorite songs) and then changed his mind. Last night he played it, with the strings and drum, more than making up for his indiscretion the month before.

During the song, I could swear that I heard someone singing the ambeR Rubarth part (harmony) absolutely perfectly with Alex. I couldn’t see anyone doing it, and it wasn’t anyone on stage (it was a female voice). After the show, my friend turned to me and said: “Did you hear that woman over there singing the ambeR part perfectly?”. Yes, yes, I did! I honestly thought it was just me knowing the song so well that my mind filled in ambeR’s part on it’s own! Whew, I’m not totally addled just yet… Winking smile

Adam tried to get up after Brooklyn Blurs, but Alex cajoled him into playing one more song, Motion Sickness, with Melissa and David as well. Not just them, but the entire crowd was split into two to sing along with the chorus. I was on the side of the audience that in the previous two shows was assigned the “na na na na, na na na na, na na na na, na” part. Alex changed it up this time, and our side was given the “oh, oh, oh oh oh” part. I’m adept at both, so he didn’t throw me for the loop that he hoped to! Winking smile

After dismissing the band, Alex started his looping machine and tapped out some percussion on the guitar body. Then he added a whooshing sound by rubbing the strings. While that looped endlessly, he returned to the piano and played another new(-ish) song (I think it’s one he co-wrote with Paul Freeman). Absolutely wonderful!

For more Alex Wong / Paul Freeman goodness, check out their new project, Bellows Band where you can hear three songs stream for free!

He followed that with a song he co-wrote with Nate Campany. I call it the Yeah Yeah Yeah song (that’s the entire chorus). Last time, Alex Berger sang the Yeah Yeah Yeah part in harmony with Wong. This time, the audience did. It was awesome. In particular, Seth Faulk (the aforementioned drummer) stood right over my left shoulder and sang incredible harmony with Alex. Nicely done all, but especially Seth who gave me a personal concert! Smile

I might be missing another song or two, but suffice it to say that the entire set was a blast.

Making it even better was running into three friends who we sat with (I didn’t know any of them would be at the show, though I could have guessed). We even got to introduce one to the other two, so the circle widens. Good music, good company and a good glass of wine. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Greg Holden at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We’ve seen Greg Holden perform three full sets over the past year and sing as a guest at a few other shows. He’s grown on me each time I’ve seen him. Last night was his last show of 2010, at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. It was scheduled for 10:30pm so we were shaky about making it out that late. In the end, Lois was too tired to go out. So was I, but a scalding shower and the outside air gave me the necessary second wind.

I was particularly interested in seeing the show because Greg just finished recording a new CD (Titled: I Don’t Believe You, likely out in the Spring). He was going to debut a few new songs from the CD. I was also under the impression that there were new arrangements for some existing songs and I was curious to hear those as well.

Greg came on stage at 10:45pm. That was way better than I expected, given that there was a private party at Rockwood from 6-10pm.

The first number he performed was solo, Following Footsteps. It was very slow, very quiet, very well done. The vast majority of the people at Rockwood were quiet and totally focused on Greg. One jerk at the bar could be heard (louder than Greg). Unfortunately, that jerk became a focal point throughout the set. It made for some laughs along the way, but ultimately, people like that need to be shown the door.

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When the song was over, Greg was joined by a full, all-star band (another reason why I pushed myself to go out). I’ll cover each of the band members shortly (as I always do).

That second number, Hell and Back, was very upbeat. It got the crowd going (and overwhelmed the jerk). After the song, Greg joked that he should have opened with that number.

Greg only played one other song solo (I think: I Don’t Believe You), another slow soulful number, beautifully finger-picked. The band left the stage for that one, but otherwise accompanied him on the rest of the set. Greg joked that he was playing some depressing songs (e.g., American Dream, inspired by a homeless couple he sat next to on the subway). He added that if you wanted happy songs, you should have gone to see Ian the night before.

While it’s true that the subject matter of some of Greg’s songs was dark (depressing?), whenever the full band was playing, there were more rock overtones to the songs making them feel less sorrowful. Speaking of the band, from left-to-right on stage:

Ian Axel on grand piano and vocals. The first time we ever saw Ian was when he sat in as a guest on a few numbers for Greg Holden’s set at Rockwood 1 (that was also the first time we saw Greg). Their interaction has clearly grown since then. Ian sang significantly more harmony with Greg last night than he did last year. I really enjoyed their blend, with Ian taking the high notes and Greg the baritone. Of course, Ian always sounds great on the piano, nothing needs to be added on that subject.

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Tony Maceli on electric bass. I’ve said dozens of times what a solid musician Tony is. I was shocked that it took Greg Holden’s music (something I don’t, or rather hadn’t associated with rock) to open up Tony’s bass playing considerably. On the first song that the band joined Greg (Hell and Back), Tony wailed on the bass, playing faster riffs than I’ve ever seen him do. He remained energized and tasty throughout, handling the mellower numbers with his usual skill.

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Adam Christgau on drums and vocals. The night before (in my post about Ian’s show) I mentioned that my count-down clock to see Adam had started again. I’m so happy that I got to reset that clock a little over 24 hours later! Adam is a joy to listen to. I even got to see a bit more of him than usual at a Rockwood 2 show, because Tony kept moving toward the piano, giving us a slightly better glimpse of the drum set tucked in the corner. Adam also did a nice job on the vocals (a bit more on that later).

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Chris Kuffner on lead electric guitar and vocals. One night after finally getting to see Chris open it up on the bass, I got to see his best performance (in my opinion) on the electric guitar. That’s saying something, because he’s impressed me a number of times in the past! Just like with Tony on the bass, Hell and Back had Chris going wild with incredible leads. To repeat, not something I expected from past Greg Holden shows! Chris continued this kind of play, including one fabulous number mostly played with a slide. Bravo!

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Back to the show. One of my favorite Greg Holden songs is one he co-wrote with Joey Ryan. The only versions I’ve heard (live and on YouTube) are acoustic, very mellow. Lois titled the song Nothing But a Memory (when it was still untitled). Greg and Joey finally named it As Far as I Can. It will be on the new CD and Joey recorded it with him. Here’s their debut of the song on YouTube (have patience if they show an ad first!):

Greg Holden and Joey Ryan performing As Far as I Can

Last night, with a full band, and Ian singing Joey’s part (well!), the song was dramatically different. More rock-n-roll than folk. I liked it and it was performed well, but I much prefer the original version. When the song was over, I turned to my friend and noted that. She likes the original version too, but was much happier than I was with the new one. I’ll be curious to see which version Greg puts on the new CD.

To close out the show, Greg played one of his signature songs, Bar on A (co-written with Nate Campany). Greg invited anyone who wanted to sing it with him up on the stage. Nine people (mostly professional musicians) came up and formed a Rockette-like chorus line behind Greg. The ones I’m sure of, left-to-right were Katie Costello, Lauren Zettler, Bess Rogers, Allison Weiss, Sam Teichman, Nate Campany and standing behind them Seth Faulk. There was someone standing to Katie’s right (our left) who I couldn’t see (and don’t know). Between Allison and Sam was a comedian (Sam told me his name after the set, but I’ve forgotten it).

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Greg did a generous and cool thing with this song. When the song started, he turned to Ian and nodded. Ian sang lead on the first verse. Then Greg looked back to Adam, who stood and sang the next few lines. Greg then followed that with Tony singing a few and Chris doing some as well. A very nice way for him to highlight the amazing band that played with him!

A fun night out. I’m glad I shook off the exhaustion! Smile

Before the show, Greg and Adam going over the set list (on an iPhone!). Technology marches on! Smile

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P.S. Since Lois didn’t attend, any complaints about the photos go directly to me…