Adam Christgau

New York Sings for Haiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AlexBerger1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hadar,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheBongos

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

TheWellspring

Nate Campany (supported by many of the other performers)

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

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Will Knox

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Ed Romanoff

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Sara Jean Kelly

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

Tula

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

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

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Threeds

Ian Axel (ahhhhhhhhhhhh, supported by Chad Vaccarino)

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

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Joey Ryan (supported by Vienna Teng and Dave Eggar)

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

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Harper Blynn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Berger and The Bowmans at Living Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Glockenspiel

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

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

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at City Winery

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I decided to label this post Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at City Winery because we specifically went to see them. They were part of a lineup in one of many Showcase performances during the 4-day APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) Conference.

I’ll cover everyone who appeared on stage, which will make this another very long post. I’ll summarize all of the performances first and then get more detailed.

Third in the lineup, but first in our hearts (before and after the show) were Vienna Teng and Alex Wong. They were extraordinary in every respect.

Closing the show was WPA (Works Progress Administration). They were completely engaging, played the longest set of the night, and were the only ones permitted to return for an encore. They are all wonderful musicians.

Jeff Daniels was the MC for the evening, but a musical one at that. He picked his acoustic guitar with fury and purpose, sang wonderfully, and kept everyone laughing (through his songs and stories) every second he was on stage. He opened the show, and came on between every act.

Grant Lee Phillips rounded out the lineup, appearing after Jeff’s opening numbers. He has an excellent voice, plays the guitar really well and was accompanied by a piano/midi player, creating quite a full sound. There was a lot to enjoy about his performance, but it didn’t entrance me.

Excruciating details to follow. If you found this space because you searched for your particular favorite artist, just skip down appropriately. I’ll cover them in the same order I summarized them above.

A month ago we saw Vienna and Alex for the first time at Joe’s Pub. I covered that show in this very long post. While the character of the show last night was very different, every word I wrote in the Joe’s Pub post still applies, and our awe of both Vienna and Alex (independently!) continues to grow.

A brief recap of their respective strengths:

Vienna has an angelic voice which she can modulate over a large range. In addition to hitting high and low notes, she modulates ferocity, singing in a near whisper at times and belting it out at others.

She writes songs that move you both lyrically and musically. Armed with those attack vectors, one or both will be sure to knock you down and keep you riveted throughout her performance.

She is unreal on the piano. We couldn’t imagine a world without her voice and lyrics, except that when she’s only playing the piano, one can easily forget that there’s more to appreciate and explore.

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She’s also easy on the eyes, so there’s no need to scan the room to keep your visual interest either. 😉

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Alex is talented on so many levels it’s hard to capture in a “brief recap” of his strengths. At the core (for me) is his spiritual connection with the music, which he captures and conveys to the audiences in whatever instrument he happens to be playing (and he plays so many, it’s mind-boggling).

AlexWongWaterphone AlexWongDrums AlexWongGlockenspielDrums AlexWongGuitar

We discovered Vienna through our love of Alex’s other project, The Paper Raincoat. In The Paper Raincoat, Alex plays a variety of instruments but leaves the drumming to the amazing Adam Christgau.  While Alex plays a number of instruments in support of Vienna, he’s mostly a percussionist, adding depth and coloring the mood of Vienna’s masterpieces.

Alex sings well, mostly in haunting harmonies with Vienna, but occasionally some leads as well.

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The above recaps their generic strengths all of which they exhibited at last night’s show. They put together a great one-hour set with a wide range of styles (nailing the concept of a Showcase).

They produce a sound that is unimaginably big for only two people. I described one of the techniques that they use in my last post, looping their voices and instruments to create layers and self-harmonies. They took it to another level last night.

When they played The Last Snowfall (the first cut from their current CD, Inland Territory), Alex took over the piano duties and Vienna just sang. I put just sang in italics because Vienna looped her voice multiple times. At the end of the song, she was singing four part harmony. I am not kidding. It was stunningly beautiful.

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I think I took her aback when I joked after the show that I was expecting five or six part harmony. Not everyone immediately gets my sense of humor. 😉

ViennaTengMelodica

Similarly, Alex often loops the drum sounds. While it certainly sounds like multiple drummers (in perfect unison), it’s actually much more interesting than just multiple drummers (a sound I love, used by The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead for example). Alex achieves the feel of echoes in a completely seamless manner.

Expecting this kind of technical pyrotechnics in a studio is one thing. Experiencing performers doing this live on stage, in real-time, with zero margin for error, is astounding. I’ve seen a few people use looping techniques on stage (all to good effect), but none that raise it to a very art form like Vienna and Alex. Bravo!

Once again Vienna closed the set with the electrifying Grandmother Song (also on the Inland Territory CD). This is the only other number that she didn’t play the piano on. If I need to give more detail than the word electrifying, you need to break out your dictionary and help yourself a bit. 🙂

ViennaTengGrandmotherSong

If we only saw their one-hour set, we would have been completely satisfied at the value we received for our ticket price and our night out!

The couple who sat next to us are big fans of Vienna and Alex (so we know they have good taste in music) 😉 and they were telling us how great WPA are, so I was pumped up to see them perform.

There are three core members of WPA and others slide in and out at various times. It’s theoretically a side project for all of them, but it seems to be a stable one, with a potentially long future.

In the center is Glen Phillips, former lead singer of Toad the Wet Sprocket. Good voice, great stage presence, good guitar playing (one of the few people who occasionally finger picks on an electric guitar).

GlenPhillips

On the left is Luke Bulla on the fiddle and vocals. We’ve seen Luke twice before, both times with the Jerry Douglas band. Luke also plays with Lyle Lovett! He is a major talent on the fiddle and he showed it off a number of times last night. He has a good voice too, singing lead and harmonizing with the others. Luke also played one number on the guitar, which he wrote.

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On the right is Sean Watkins on acoustic guitar and vocals. I’ve never seen Sean perform before, but I am very familiar with him. He was 1/3 of Nickel Creek, one of my favorite groups (I own all of their CDs). Sean is an excellent flat picker and has a really good and distinctive voice. Even though the rest of the sound is not Nickel Creek like (due to the absence of the mind-boggling Chris Thile on Mandolin), whenever Sean was singing lead and taking the lead on the guitar, I could hear his Nickel Creek roots, and I loved every second of it.

SeanWatkins

The three of them trade off singing lead and in all cases harmonize together beautifully, in pairs and all three together.

Backing them up last night was a very good bassist, Sebastian Steinberg and on the drums, Jerry Roe. The two of them supported Glen, Luke and Sean very well, keeping the beat lively and interesting.

SebastianSteinberg JerryRoe

Clearly they are all excellent musicians who sing well. We also happen to like that general sound (a blend of Bluegrass and Rock). What particularly tickled me is their lyrical irreverence. Many of the songs that they sing are flat out funny. They are having a great time on stage, and it’s infectious.

One example (of many) is a song that Sean sings about loving a girl who didn’t return his affection. He later finds out she’s a lesbian. He laments:

Everyone’s a little queer, why couldn’t you be a little straight?

Update: Check the comment from Alex Wong who corrects me and points out that the above-mentioned song is by Weezer, called Pink Triangle!

They closed the encore with an upbeat version (nice Bluegrass kick) of Bob Dylan’s You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Sean sung lead and played a wicked guitar throughout). It was an awesome way to end an awesome night out.

Jeff Daniels (yes, the famous actor) was perfect as MC. He plays the guitar in a hard-charging fingers-flying blues-style picking way. He sings remarkably well. But, crushing that is the fact that he’s hysterical and natural on the stage.

JeffDaniels1

He played two numbers each of the three times he was on stage, effectively having a nice full set for himself as well, even though it was spaced out. All of the songs were funny. One was spoken (a long, wildly entertaining true story about a family vacation). Even the spoken one felt like a song, because Jeff was picking madly the entire time (how he didn’t lose his concentration on either the story or the guitar is beyond me!), which created a beat to the story.

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He was also very kind to us before the show. Lois asked if she could take his picture (we were there early enough to catch the tail end of his sound check). Not only did he immediately say yes, but he suggested that she get in the picture and that I take it. Then, while Lois and I both started to stand up, he said “Don’t move, I can just as easily bend!”, and indeed he did. 🙂

JeffDanielsLois

I have no doubt that we would both jump at the chance to see Jeff perform again. No other acts need to be on the bill!

After Jeff opened the show, Grant Lee Phillips came out. He was accompanied by Jamie Edwards on the piano and midi (sorry, I couldn’t find a good individual link for Jamie). Jamie did an excellent job of complementing Grant’s excellent guitar play, creating a rich sound between them. He also sang a bit of harmony.

Grant has a good voice, and I liked the sound/feel of his music. Unfortunately, that’s where it ended for me. I found myself drifting and unable to concentrate on his lyrics (so I’m not saying they aren’t good, I just don’t know, they didn’t rope me in). Each of the songs felt a bit too long as well. Again, for songs that I love, longer is better, so something was a tad off for me.

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In between songs, Grant had my full attention. He’s very quick and very funny. Any tiny mishap on stage was immediately turned into an opportunity to entertain the crowd with his wit. I was very impressed with his stage presence.

In total, this was a very long show, lasting 220 minutes! Give me more Showcases, please! 🙂

Not to be lost in all of the above is that City Winery is absolutely gorgeous. The second we walked in the door we were drawn to look at every nook and cranny of this brilliantly designed space.

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Dinner is meant to be semi-tapas style, or in general, shared. Everything we sampled was excellent, so theoretically, no problem. The one potential problem (that we avoided) is that the tables for four are quite small. If another couple was also sharing at the same time, it would have been unpleasant at best, and impossible at worst. Because we’re always super early, we finished eating long before the other couple was seated, and they got to eat without worrying about us either.

This is a real winery, not just in name. In addition to serving excellent wines (I thoroughly enjoyed my glass of Petite Syrah), they also make their own! This is a place we will be attending many more times, no doubt!

One small-world story to top off the night. For a few months, we had targeted a different show for last night. We have never seen Del McCoury and he was scheduled to play at BB King last night. I can’t explain why I didn’t grab tickets right away, but I didn’t.

A month ago I heard about mandolin phenom Sarah Jarosz. Then I found out she was opening for Del McCoury. To top it off, so was Marty Stuart. My excitement for this show was almost uncontainable. Still, I didn’t buy tickets. Why? I had no idea at the time, but I know now that I wasn’t meant to.

A week later I received an alert that Vienna Teng and Alex Wong were playing at City Winery that same night. Believe it or not, my mind failed to make the connection that it was the same night. I asked Lois and she instantly said “Grab tickets!”. I did.

Literally five minutes later, I turned to her and said “Uh oh, that was the same night that we were planning on seeing Del, Sarah and Marty!”. When I saw her flinch, I thought I should see if I could find someone to take the City Winery tickets off our hands, and still get the tickets for the BB King show. Lois said no, we love Vienna and Alex, let’s just keep things the way they are.

Obviously, we’ll never know how much we would have loved that show, but we know how much we loved the one we were obviously destined to see. 🙂

Update: Oops. I left out the small world part of the above story. Luke Bulla introduced a song that he sang last night as one he has been singing since he was a kid. It was a Del McCoury song. He never mentioned that Del was playing two miles north in Times Square at that exact moment. Perhaps he didn’t even know.

ambeR Rubarth at NAU NYC

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In yesterday’s post I mentioned that ambeR Rubarth had just returned to NYC from a long tour. She didn’t take any time to rest up, following her guest appearance at Alex Berger’s show with a show of her own last night.

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Amber was accompanied by Tony Maceli and Adam Christgau, and the three of them performed an excellent 50 minute set at the NAU NYC store.

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The band was set up in the corner of the first floor of the store:

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I’ve written about all three a number of times, and all of my previous praises applied to last night’s performance. In addition to loving the entire set, ambeR played Wish We’d Gotten Drunk which we had never heard her play live before (it’s on her new CD), which tickled both of us.

Toward the end of the set, I was thinking that I was really in the mood to hear Novacaine (from her New Green Lines CD). A minute later ambeR announced that she was going to play one last song. It was Novacaine. Bingo! 🙂

Rather than repeat how awesome ambeR is (there, I did it anyway), I’m going to use the rest of this post to discuss the venue and the life of a musician, rather than this particular show.

The link above is to a particular store. The chain is NAU, an eco-friendly clothing company. Prior to yesterday, I had never heard of this brand.

In case you hadn’t heard, times are tough all over for a lot of people. Retailing and musicians are near the top of that list. Discretionary spending is hard to come by. How do you get by, or even flourish, in such times?

Creativity and hustle!

I’ve written about a number of creative things that ambeR and The Paper Raincoat have done to promote themselves and get their CDs pre-sold and then actually sold. Being willing to sing in a clothing store is creative as well, but more importantly, it’s true hustle.

It shows that ambeR won’t miss an opportunity to connect with existing fans, broaden her fan base (after all, eco-friendly shoppers are probably a high overlap with the type of people who would be attracted to ambeR’s music) and keep her name associated with cool initiatives.

It gets even more interesting (to me) from NAU’s perspective. First, the particular store itself. Officially, it’s called: NAU Pop-Up Shop in NYC. Basically, they took an empty space in SoHo, did some super-fast renovation, and opened a store on a temporary basis. Yes, temporary!

I usually associate these temporary stores with seasonal goods, usually Halloween items. Here, it appears to be an opportunistic and very creative way to create buzz, entrench the brand, and of course, make some sales along the way.

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This store opened in early November, and will be closing on New Year’s Eve! So, how does a retailer maximize their investment over such a short period of time?

Creativity!

They turn the space into a happening, causing people to show up that would otherwise not even be aware of the store’s existence, let alone go out on a frigid winter night to shop there.

They do this by announcing regular store hours that end at 7pm each night. Then, on many nights (but not all), they have local musicians, artists, and other complementary functions, scheduled from 7-10pm. This causes buzz associated with their brand, but it also causes others (the artists, musicians, organizations) to market and bring people into the store.

Amber tweeted that she’d be at NAU. We (and other fans) showed up (happily). At the same time, an organization called Green Drinks International was holding one of their get-togethers in the downstairs lounge.

Drinks (presumably for the Green Drinks gathering) were supplied by Sixpoint Craft Ales. People who came for the Green Drinks meetup ended up hearing ambeR. People who came to hear ambeR tasted their first Sixpoint Ale.

While NAU achieved some brand building at the least, hopefully, they sold more merchandise during hours that they otherwise would have been closed (certainly, the cash registers were ringing up sales throughout the evening, and the flow of people browsing the racks of clothing was steady).

The point is that in these tough times, if you stick to tried and true formulas, you’re best case scenario is a decline in business. If you are creative, and hustle, you might fail, but you’ve improved your odds of success at the same time.

Kudos to all involved in last night’s endeavor. May they all prosper as a result!

P.S. Speaking of hustle, Adam Christgau ran out to play with another group in the Village. This time, instead of drums, he was going to play bass. No rest for the weary (and talented!). 🙂

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall

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We’ve seen Alex Berger perform twice before, but last night at Rockwood Music Hall was our first time seeing him headline a full set with a full band. The show started at 11pm, which is way past our bedtime, but Alex is well worth today’s exhaustion.

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After the show we finally got to meet another friend and fan of Alex, and she said exactly what I was thinking: “Alex is an old soul!” So true.

Alex has a great voice, plays the piano wonderfully, and writes beautiful songs. Most are from a throw-back era of great jazz singers who wend their way through heart-tugging lyrics and sophisticated melodies, highlighting their vocal and musical chops along the journey. Hence the term “old soul”.

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Alex has completed work on his soon-to-be released CD Snow Globe, but still needs some help in getting the final package put together and delivered to his eagerly awaiting fans.

We’ve already helped by being the first to pre-order the CD and then being first to contribute when he announced the final push on his Kickstarter Page. As of this minute, he’s less than $600 from his goal of $3,173 to get the CD released. Please help out, however much you can. 11 days left to make this a reality!

Last night Alex was accompanied by a very talented group of musicians. Sitting left-to-right on stage:

Marika Hughes on cello. I am pretty sure that Marika also plays on the Snow Globe CD, so seeing her perform live added a bit more excitement to finally getting our hands on the CD in a few months. She was wonderful throughout the set.

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Tony Maceli on electric and upright bass. Tony is wonderful. This was our third time seeing him perform, the other two times were both in support of amber Rubarth. He has the right touch on the bass and complements whoever he is playing with.

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Adam Christgau on drums. I’ve written about Adam many times, the most recent time being his performance this past Friday night at Canal Room in support of Ian Axel and Greg Holden.

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As always, Adam proved my thesis last night, that he can play any style to match the performer he’s accompanying. Alex’s Jazzy/Bluesy set called for an entirely different drumming style than Ian Axel’s energy-laden pop-fest. Adam is always up to the task!

Alex brought two very special guests on stage with him. Amber Rubarth came up to sing a duet with him. Gorgeous! She just got back into town that day after a long tour down the East Coast and into the mid-West. I am impressed that she had the energy to come out that late and sound so good!

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In a small-world coincidence, we just got our copies of amber and Adam Levy’s new EP in the mail yesterday. We listened to it right before heading to Rockwood. Nice timing! 🙂

Martin Rivas joined Alex for the last two numbers of his set. Martin played guitar (really well!). That freed Alex to leave the piano tucked in the corner of the stage and come out and just sing the last number. It was great!

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Alex joined in a tradition of baking cookies and brownies for his holiday audience. Martin Rivas has been doing this for a while (I think) and the two of them baked up a storm for all of us. Lois was kind enough to let me sample (devour) some, and they were awesome! I bet the place would have been even more crowded if people knew what they were missing in the dessert department! 😉

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It’s not clear whether Alex had to pay Adam in cash. It appears he would have happily performed for cookies and brownies. 😉

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Alex has a lot of fans. The place was packed, on a cold Monday night during a holiday week, for an 11pm show. Well done!

When Alex’s set was over, Martin Rivas took the stage. We really wanted to stay and hear him, but alas, we were turning into midnight pumpkins, and had to run out to hit the sack. We’ll look for a Martin Rivas show as soon as possible.

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Ian Axel and Greg Holden at Canal Room

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This one is gonna be long (surprise!), so let’s bottom line it for the impatient:

  1. Ian AxelCrazy good!
  2. Greg Holden – Very good, would have been nice if some in the crowd were more attentive.
  3. Katie Costello – Very good, need to hear more and I want to.
  4. Honey Larochelle – Delightful surprise.
  5. Kenny Muhammad – was a guest on one Honey Larochelle number. He’s incredible.
  6. Band Members – See below, if you have patience. 🙂

OK, I formally give you permission to bail on the rest of this, here’s your hall pass. 🙂

We saw Ian Axel once before at Rockwood Music Hall, and I covered that show in this post. We were so blown away that night that we’ve been eagerly awaiting another opportunity to see Ian perform. It turned out to be a 56 day wait, an eternity from our perspective.

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Ian has a new CD coming out on January 5th, and we are impatiently waiting for that as well. Ian Axel is an extraordinary singer, songwriter, keyboard player, and he isn’t half-bad on the ukulele either.

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There were a few differences last night. At Rockwood, Ian played a grand piano, last night, electric keyboards. Who cares, he’s brilliant on both. He added an electric guitar to the mix, nice. Rockwood is tiny. While they can pack it in for a popular show (I guess between 80-100 people can become good friends quickly), it’s still a super-intimate place, generally filled with super-fans only. Canal Room is a bit more spacious (still pretty intimate) but audiences can be a bit more distracting, not there purely for the music.

From a selfish perspective, I’m glad Ian is still playing intimate clubs (our favorite experience). He has the talent to fill and captivate venues like the Beacon Theatre, Radio City Music Hall, etc. I know he’s not well known enough to fill them yet, and that’s a shame (for him and his eventual fans), but a short-term win for his existing fans. That big-venue day is coming, mark my words.

Backing up Ian, from left-to-right:

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar and some vocal backup. Chris is better known for his bass playing than his guitar. I didn’t know that, but some people pointed out to me after the show that he’s a bass god, and listening to the pieces on his MySpace page convince me that’s dead on. I really couldn’t make out his guitar or vocals too well last night. It’s clear that his fellow musicians have enormous respect for him, and that’s more than good enough for me!

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Adam Christgau on the drums and some vocal backup. I’ve written about Adam numerous times. I loved his drumming from the first time we saw him, at the Canal Room (like last night), playing with The Paper Raincoat. My respect for him has only grown since then.

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I mentioned in the last Ian post that Adam changes styles to match the artist/music, and that Ian brings out a much more dramatic flair in Adam. As much as I love the sophistication of the drumming for The Paper Raincoat, on many Ian numbers Adam can really let loose (power, speed, etc.), and it’s delightful (visually and aurally).

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Also, as mentioned in the last post, the only reason we discovered Ian is because Adam was playing with him, and we made the assumption that if Adam was bothering, Ian had to be worth listening to. For that alone we’ll forever be grateful to Adam!

Chris Anderson played electric bass and some vocal backup. Chris also played bass for Ian at Rockwood. Chris impressed me at Rockwood, but the stage was super tight there and Ian played half the numbers without the band. Last night Chris got to stretch out a bit more (he has a ton of infectious energy on stage) and we both enjoyed every note he played.

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Ian brought Greg Holden out toward the end of the set to sing with him (Ian sat in a bit on Greg’s set as well). The two of them work well together and I’m sure they’ll be appearing on the same bill in the future, as they were the two times we’ve seen them so far.

Ian also played one number on his ukulele accompanied by Michael Campbell (sorry, couldn’t find a link for him) on the guitar and harmony vocals. Excellent!

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Greg Holden did a roughly 40 minute set before he turned the stage over to Ian. When he came out, backing him were Chris Kuffner, Ian Axel, Adam Christgau, and a different bassist, Kyle McCammon (no decent photo). Kyle was very good on the bass, and was replaced by Chris Anderson for Ian’s set. He had another gig at 11pm at The National Underground, so he had a busy night. 🙂

Greg was quite good playing the guitar and singing. His voice is somewhere between a light raspiness and a bit of smokiness (now you know exactly what he sounds like). He writes good songs.

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If I had to pick a slight nit, a number of his songs tend to repeat the hook a few times too many. They’re good hooks, but he could work a bit to flesh the song out. I said that last time too, and he obviously has rewritten his songs just yet. 😉

Greg opened the set solo, even though all of the band members were on stage and in position. He played an untitled song that he debuted on YouTube, a song co-written with Joey Ryan. Lois has suggested that they name the song Nothing But a Memory (we’ll see if they listen to her!). Greg did a great job solo, but I was marginally surprised that he didn’t enlist Ian to sing the Joey part. We love the song, and listen to it many times.

As much as we love the song, and as excellent a job as Greg did with it last night, I’ll digress here to make two separate points, both regarding this song.

I’ll cover the opening act shortly, but as I’ve said in the past, the art of booking an opening act can be hit or miss in general. I’m of the opinion that the genre should be a match so that fans of the headliner will at least be hearing music that is likely to please, or at worst, not displease. Others might argue that it’s an opportunity to broaden your horizon, because you’ll still get to hear what you specifically came for.

Last night, Honey Larochelle opened, and the genre was quite different. It was very high energy and very loud, and ended on a very high note, with the crowd rising to their feet.

Even though there were 15 minutes between sets, the buzz was still swirling throughout the room when Greg took the stage. The first point is that Greg probably should have started with a full-band song, not a solo acoustic guitar effort, because a good portion of the audience wasn’t prepared for such a mellow opening, especially with the full band just sitting there. To repeat, we love the song he played, and we loved his version of it, it just should have been further down the setlist in my opinion.

A separate but related point is that there were way too many people in the crowd who used the discordant mellowness as an excuse to talk quite loudly. I’ve faulted many people in the past when it’s an isolated couple or few people who talk during a performance, but this was perhaps a quarter to a third of the people, so I think they all thought that it was OK to do so, and that Greg was just background music. It was rude, and Greg didn’t deserve it.

Of course, when the full band played, people’s attention was drawn to the stage. That’s another reason why I think Greg could have controlled that situation a bit better by ordering his set differently.

Back to the main action. After playing a few songs with the full band, Greg invited Katie Costello on stage (and the band left, except for Chris who played one song with them). They played two songs together, with Katie playing a bit of keyboards but mostly singing with Greg.

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On the first number, Katie seemed to be straining during the first verse. Greg did a very classy thing. He stopped the song mid-stream and apologized for starting it in the wrong key! He slid the capo down two frets and started again. This time Katie hit every note beautifully, and they pulled the song off without another hitch.

I’ve been listening to her streaming from her site (linked above) for quite a while now. I like her a lot. She’s playing tomorrow (Sunday, December 20th) at Rockwood Music Hall at 11pm. We already have tickets to see the amazing Cherish the Ladies in Pawling, NY tomorrow night, so we won’t get to see Katie just yet, but if you’re in NYC tomorrow, and you’re a night owl, do yourself a favor and get over to Rockwood.

Greg played a bit more with the band, and a few more solos as well. Over all, a very nice set.

Opening the show was Honey Larochelle, backed by a four piece band and two backup singers. On her MySpace page she describes her music as Soul / Folk Rock / R&B. Yes, she’s all that, and more.

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Excellent voice, wide range, bubbly spirit, showmanship. All four band members are very good, as are the backup singers, so the whole ensemble works well together.

Honey announced that she would be doing a bunch of Christmas songs (and I’ll explain in a minute why I believed her). She opened the show with one, but I don’t think she played a second one for the remainder of the 35-minute set (though perhaps I’m addled after the rest of the great show).

The rest of the set was a romp that covered the above-mentioned genres and added a closing Hip Hop number with Kenny Muhammad called I Love a Human Beat Box (or it should be if it isn’t). Kenny truly is a human beat box. In fact, he sounds like a full drum set in addition to other DJ like sounds. Pretty amazing.

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Honey also did a wonderful number as a tribute to her mother’s common sense advice when she was growing up, which she now appreciates even though she ignored it at the time, called Hold You Down. She had the audience sing during the chorus. We did a better job than the audience in this YouTube version of the song. 🙂

Backing her up, left-to-right:

Devory Pugh on keyboards (sorry, no good standalone link). He was solid, highlighted on one number. We chatted with him for a minute after the show. He also manages artists. Very nice guy! One of his guys, Charles Perry, will be appearing at Gospel Uptown on 1/19/2010.

DevoryPugh

Playing the electric guitar was a new member to the band (this was the second time he appeared with them). He has a Polish name that I didn’t catch. I’ll update the post if someone fills in his name for me. He was quite tasty, playing a jazz/blues style. Clearly a superior talent.

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Greg Norwood (AKA G the Backbone) on drums (also no good links). He was absolutely incredible throughout the set.

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Jesse Singer on bass (again, no good links). He was solid throughout the set.

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Regine Roy and Cole Williams sang backup and did a great job. They both had good stage presence.

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While I can appreciate R&B, it’s not the typical music we go to see, so it was a treat to see someone that we enjoyed as much as we did. Even though I still think that the genre was not well matched to the headliners, it worked for two reasons: 1) all of the performers were top notch; 2) Honey is good friends with Ian (and possibly Greg), so there were quite a number of overlapping fans.

The Canal Room website listed the show as starting at 7:30pm, with doors opening at 7pm. We like to get to General Admission shows early so that we can sit as close to the stage as possible (preferably the front row). While the sound isn’t the best that close up, the view is. Lois is very near-sighted, so if we’re not right near the stage, the entire show is a blur to her.

We showed up early, as usual, and found out that everything was shifted back 1/2 an hour. It was cold out, but we were fine braving it to be first in. After a bit, management took pity on us (we were the only ones in line!), and told us that we could wait in the lobby inside. We were grateful, it’s quite an unusual move (we know from long experience).

After waiting 15 minutes inside, still long before the doors were supposed to open, another member of management also took pity on us, and told us that we could go in, but that it was still sound check time, so we should be respectful of that. Of course, we were.

It turned out to be quite special. We sat in the front row and watched Honey and the band warm up and play a number of songs they didn’t do in the set (mostly Christmas numbers that I guess they intended to do). Really good! But, in addition to just enjoying the music, I got a much better look at the guitar player, who played a lot of interesting riffs throughout the sound check.

We also chatted with Honey very briefly after sound check, and she’s as lovely as could be.

After the show we talked to Ian for a minute and got him to sign one of his EPs that we purchased at the Rockwood show. I always implore my readers to support the artists that they like, and we do whatever we can ourselves.

We bought an Ian Axel T-Shirt from Chad Vaccarino who was working Ian’s merch table. Chad did a great job singing with Ian at Rockwood and is credited with convincing Ian to start singing. Thank you Chad!

We also purchased three Greg Holden CDs and an unmixed, unmastered, unreleased CD of Honey’s, pressed just for fans that come to these types of shows.

Greg signed one of his CDs as well, and we got to tell him directly how much we love Nothing But a Memory (perhaps if I write it often, he and Joey will decide to make Lois happy and stick with that name!). 😉

We also ran into two of our favorite Alexes, Alex Berger and Alex Wong. We got to spend a bit more time with Alex Berger because we talked to him before Honey took the stage, and then after the show as well. Seeing Alex Wong was a treat too. I knew that he had a show in SF tonight and tomorrow, so we didn’t think he was still in town. His flight just made it out of NYC minutes ago, so hopefully he’ll hit the stage in time for the show…

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We know that the next time, we’ll be as likely to be told to wait outside until the doors officially open, but for last night, we’ll be forever grateful on all accounts. 🙂

Ian Axel at Rockwood Music Hall

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The title of this post is as big a surprise to me as it is to you. 😉

When we planned our evening last night (a couple of weeks ago), I was unaware that Ian Axel was scheduled to play at Rockwood Music Hall, and was unaware of his music. Our plan was to see Greg Holden at 8pm (our first time seeing him) and then running a few blocks away to Arlene’s Grocery to see Atomic Tom for the first time as well. The best laid plans…

The night before (Thursday), we were also at Rockwood, to see ambeR Rubarth and we caught most of the set before her, Chris Kasper and Ross Bellenoit. Adam Christgau, who was drumming for ambeR, mentioned that he would be drumming for Greg Holden the next night (we knew that, which is why we were interested in seeing Greg’s show to begin with), but he also mentioned that he’d be drumming for Ian Axel immediately thereafter.

Hmmm, that made me listen to Ian Axel’s MySpace page and I liked what I heard. We were now leaning toward hanging at Rockwood, especially if we had one of the few seats in the place, rather than chance being shut out at Arlene’s Grocery.

I’ll come back and describe the rest of the evening’s musicians and logistics after covering our experience of Ian’s set.

Wow!

OK, I covered it! Seriously! We were both blown away by Ian in every respect. He’s an absolutely phenomenal piano player. He has an excellent voice (more on that in a bit). He writes interesting songs (melody, lyrics, arrangements). He delivers them with tremendous energy and showmanship. He connects with the crowd. He’s funny.

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On his up-beat pop numbers he was accompanied by Adam Christgau on  the drums and Chris Anderson on electric bass. Both were excellent, and both sang harmony a bit.

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Adam has always impressed me (as I’ve written a number of times) but even more so last night, after seeing him play with Greg and Ian, adding more styles than is required to support The Paper Raincoat and ambeR’s music. He’s a super talented drummer (and singer) that adds to any artist he’s supporting!

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In addition to those high energy numbers, Ian also played a few solos on the piano, ballads, and he played one solo on the ukulele, which was more mellow.

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He told a story that when he started out, he really didn’t consider singing. A friend of his, Chad Vaccarino kept pressing him to sing, telling him that he was destined to be a singer. Obviously, Chad got to him, and we are all grateful that he did!

Apparently, roughly the same time that Ian started singing, Chad stopped performing (Ian didn’t explain why). Until earlier this week, when Chad performed at Rockwood (on Monday), and according to Ian, killed it! After telling the story, Ian invited Chad up on the stage to sing a song with him. Excellent!

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Ian’s a definite follow around whenever we can.

Toward the end of the set, Ian mentioned that he hopes to get his new CD out by the end of the year. In the meantime, he had a 6-song EP that he offered to give away to anyone who came to find him at the end of the show. He allowed for the fact that some people might wish to donate instead of just taking it for free. 🙂

In addition to being generous in the Tip Jar that was passed around for Ian, Lois found him after the show, and donated $20 for two copies of the EP. We enjoyed it on the ride back to the house this morning.

Working backwards musically, appearing before Ian was Greg Holden, the primary reason we were at Rockwood to begin with. I mentioned Greg in a post about Cardboard Bikini (a.k.a. The Paper Raincoat), where he stood right behind me at Rockwood for one of their shows. After that show, both Adam Christgau and Alex Berger told me that I really needed to catch Greg’s show.

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The next morning, he left on a six-week tour opening for Ingrid Michaelson, all over the country. I started following him on Twitter right away, and I enjoyed his snarky updates and got a feel for the tour through his eyes.

He also has a song that will be featured on this week’s episode of Private Practice on ABC, so he’s well on his way to a career in the music biz.

I thoroughly enjoyed his set, though clearly not enough to have bumped Ian from the title of the post, hence my own surprise.

Greg played the acoustic guitar well. On his more energetic numbers, he was accompanied by Adam Christgau on the drums, a bassist whose name I didn’t catch and Ian Axel on the piano.

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You already know how I feel about Adam and Ian, so I’ll just mention that the bassist was really good too. It was even more impressive when Greg mentioned that he was pressed into duty at the last minute, and had to learn the three songs (perhaps even that day!). I tweeted Greg last night asking his name, but haven’t heard back yet.

Update: Greg just tweeted that the bassist was Jon Estes! Thanks Greg.

He has a very relaxed style on stage, with good audience rapport. He played a cover of Walking on Sunshine, where he easily got the entire crowd to sing along, loudly. He’s also very funny (both on Twitter and in person).

Greg also played a few solo numbers (including Walking on Sunshine). He has a really good voice, and writes interesting songs. If I had to tweak him a bit, I’d say that a number of songs achieve their length by being a little too repetitive. They’re still good, but I have no doubt that he can do better, and I’m sure he will.

According to him, he took a major gamble this past January and moved to the US from the UK to launch a music career from scratch. Obviously, he’s achieved so much in so little time. Still, I have a feeling that he will continue to grow dramatically, likely at a rapid pace as well, so I look forward to tracking his career.

As with the night before, when we discovered Chris Kasper, I checked out who would be on before Greg, in the hopes that if it were someone good, we’d have a better chance of having a seat for Greg, while still enjoying the set. This week is the CMJ Showcase all over NYC, so many shows are more crowded than they might otherwise be, due to the extra publicity and press.

Edie Carey was on from 7-8pm. I listened to a few of the songs on her website and liked what I heard. Also, I noticed that she was on the last Cayamo cruise (she’s going again in March 2010), and in addition to all of the major stars that perform on that, our very own Girlyman went on last year’s cruise as well. So, I was officially intrigued.

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We walked in at 6:43pm to a jam-packed crowd listening to the group that was on from 6-7pm (I’ll describe our brief encounter with them after saying a bit more about Edie).

With a ton of luck, and some very nice people, when the set before Edie ended, Lois was able to get a seat, and a few minutes later, I was able to snag one right next to her (absolutely incredible given how crowded the place was).

Edie has a wonderful voice, which she controls really well, delivering power when she wants, and whispers at other times. She accompanies herself well on the guitar, mostly rhythm, with occasional finger-picking thrown in.

She describes her song-writing style as overwhelmingly dark (she’s right). She has an incredibly devoted fan base. Most of the people in the crowd for her set were there specifically for her. When she asked for requests, I was amazed at how many people started yelling, and how many different songs they were trying to get her to play!

One guy, standing in the very far corner, whom she called Vincent, yelled “Nice!” as she finished each song, cueing the exuberant clapping.

All of that is to say that for a large number of folks, Edie Carey is magic. She moves their souls. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that reaction. While both of us thought her voice was excellent, and her stage presence was good, the songs did very little for us. The comment that I used above saying that Greg was a bit repetitive could be multiplied for Edie.

Both of us felt that every song was overly repetitive, but since she’s singing mostly extremely slow, dark, dirges, the effect is worse than in a catchy up-beat song, where at least the repeating hook is fun.

There was nothing unpleasant about the set, and the plan to find a seat during her show and be settled in for Greg and Ian worked out better than I could have hoped, but she’s not someone that we would seek out in the future.

She told one story about writing a song for her wedding (she was married in May 2009, and her husband sat a few feet away from us). The story was warm and engaging, and it was the only time during her set that I was 100% captivated and attentive. Unfortunately, the song itself, not so much…

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Since we walked in at 6:43pm, we got to hear the last two songs of the set before Edie.

The Uglysuit had a packed crowd (as I mentioned before), and from what we heard, fully deserved! Three electric guitars, one electric bass, grand piano, and drums. That’s about as many people as you can cram on to the tiny Rockwood stage. In fact, they couldn’t! The drummer never sits on stage, and in this case, the bassist was in the crowd too, taking up the space where two people would normally be sitting.

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They have a gorgeous, rich sound. They sing well too, but they jam for much longer stretches than they sing. I would have been extremely happy to catch the rest of their set, and will look out for them in the future, though they hail from OK and tour all around. They’re playing today at 3:30pm at Kenny’s Castaways, but we’re already at the house.

I’ll use them as a specific example of a point I want to make about Rockwood in general.

At a number of venues, including some of our favorites, Sound Engineering can be hit-or-miss. Even at our favorite club, Joe’s Pub, on occasion (thankfully not too often), the sound can be downright bad.

Rockwood has nailed it for every set we’ve seen so far. What’s more impressive is the range of instruments and styles and number of people on stage, etc., that they consistently nail it for.

Using The Uglysuit as an example, three electric guitars, an electric bass, grand piano, drums, and two people singing, typically, something is too loud, or something can’t be heard. Simply not the case at Rockwood. Even with all of that music going on, the volume was appropriate, and each instrument was clear. It’s a crying shame that this isn’t the case for every show at every venue.

I stand in awe of the two people who run the sound for the sets we’ve seen at Rockwood, one of whom we believe is the owner. Absolutely incredible.

If we could be assured of always getting a seat, I hazard to guess that it might even surpass Joe’s Pub as a favorite destination for us, though some of the groups that we see at Joe’s wouldn’t play a place as small (or free!) as Rockwood.

ambeR Rubarth at Rockwood Music Hall

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If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past six months, then you know that Lois and I can’t get enough of ambeR Rubarth, whether she’s playing solo (and releasing amazing solo albums) or doing her part in the incredible duo, The Paper Raincoat. So, when an opportunity arises to see her live, it would take a team of wild horses to keep us away.

Last night she played two separate shows, 8pm at Rockwood Music Hall and 10:30pm at Gallery Bar a few blocks away. Given how exhausted we are from all of our running around, we intended to see only the Rockwood show, and we succeeded. 🙂

Joining ambeR on stage were The Paper Raincoat regular drummer, Adam Christgau and the wonderful bass player who accompanied ambeR at Joe’s Pub for her CD Release Party, Tony Maceli. In the post about her CD Release Party, I noted:

Last night’s show was one of the best concerts we’ve ever attended!

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ambeR was wonderful last night at Rockwood in every song in the set, and the crowd was loudly appreciative in their applause (and whoops) after each one. For all but two numbers, she played beautiful finger-picked guitar. On the others she played the grand piano. She’s wonderful on both instruments.

In a slight departure from past shows, she asked the crowd if she could play one of her favorite cover songs. Do you think anyone objected? 😉

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She performed a solo version of Bob Dylan’s Just Like a Woman. While remaining totally true to the original, ambeR still made it her own. It was fantastic. You could have heard a pin drop in this extremely crowded (and tiny) bar, people were so rapt in attention. When she was done, yet another intense burst of applause.

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They were on stage for 45 blissful minutes. After the set, there was a very long line of people wanting to buy her CDs. Exactly as it should be!

Rockwood Music Hall is very small, but a completely wonderful place to see live music. Most sets are one hour, including setup, so perhaps 45 minutes of music. As such, there isn’t usually the concept of an opening act (there are exceptions), so other performers are playing before and after the act you might be interested in seeing. The shows are free. There is a one-drink minimum, and a suggestion of $5 per act to place in the tip jar.

The only other time we were at Rockwood, it was to see the alter ego of The Paper Raincoat, a.k.a, Cardboard Bikini. That was a 10pm show, and it was more packed than a sardine can. Thinking that this could happen for ambeR as well, I decided to check out who was on before her, to see if we would like to get there earlier both to enjoy more music and to hopefully snag two of the few seats.

Chris Kasper was listed from 7-8pm. I checked out his MySpace page and really liked what I heard. That made me want to get there in time to hear his entire set. Unfortunately, other tasks during the day conspired against the best laid plans. We arrived at 7:20 and Chris was in mid-song.

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The other part of the plan worked to perfection. There were a decent number of people there, but it wasn’t nearly full and we were able to get two seats up at the stage right in the middle (our favorite spot). I don’t know if it’s because Chris is from Philly and perhaps not well known in NYC, or it was just the earlier hour (noting that our only other time there was for a 10pm show).

Accompanying Chris was Ross Bellenoit on guitar and some harmony.

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We were drawn to Chris (and Ross) even before he finished the song we just walked in on. He has a soulful, almost wispy voice (not wimpy, a little gravely, in the interesting sense!). He writes sophisticated lyrics which are beautifully constructed, triggering a rush of interesting images the minute you hear them.

He plays guitar very well (though for the most part, he deferred to Ross on the leads). They also played a cover of Help On the Way by the Grateful Dead, where their guitar leads were in perfect harmony between each verse. Awesome!

ChrisKasperGuitar

Ross played exceptional leads on an acoustic guitar on every song. The audience clapped after a couple of Ross’ leads (and wanted to every single time), but no one wanted to miss the next verse that Chris was singing either. At one point, Chris had to stop, and prompt the audience to do what they badly wanted to do (after a particularly good lead). Very classy!

Ross sang harmony a few times. He was actually good, but I only know that because we sat about five feet from him. He didn’t step up to the mic, so he was more of a whisper in the background.

After the set, Lois purchased three of Chris’ CDs. Two are his directly, and the third is from a band call Lowlands that Chris was part of for a while, called Bark & Twine. We listened to all three this morning, and like them all a lot. This is not a knock on Chris as a solo artist in any way, but we both really loved the Lowlands CD, it meets all of the criteria we have for things that get to us immediately.

RossBellenoitChrisKasper

Anyway, a very nice surprise, with the bonus that we had seats for ambeR’s entire set. Chris definitely benefited from being on before ambeR in terms of possibly picking up new fans. From the minute we walked in, a steady number of people kept coming in throughout his set, with the intention of being settled in for the ambeR show.

By the time his set ended, the place was nearly full (though not sardine like). The rest of ambeR’s crowd clapped just as enthusiastically for Chris and Ross as we did, and I hope they too will support him and look him up in the future.

When we got up to leave after ambeR’s set, we bumped into Jason (who we met at the Livestrong Fundraiser) and a friend of his, who happened to also be at the Brad Paisley show the night before. We chatted briefly, and headed out before the next act started to play.

Paper Raincoat at Joe’s Pub

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We’ve had the pleasure of seeing The Paper Raincoat perform twice before, and I’ve covered both extensively, the first time at Canal Room and the second at Rockwood Music Hall. You can read those posts here and here, since I will take a different tack in this post, and everything that I said in those posts remains true and applies to last night’s show as well. 🙂

Quick background (refresher for those of you who’ve read the other posts, or know The Paper Raincoat). The group is a collaboration between ambeR Rubarth and Alex Wong, accompanied on drums by the incredible Adam Christgau.

The Paper Raincoat

The Paper Raincoat

Adam Christgau

Adam Christgau

The only difference in last night’s show (and it was a very big one) was that they had a string quartet on stage throughout. The show was a release party for their brand new CD, self-titled (The Paper Raincoat). The CD has strings on a number of songs, so this was the first time they got to play live with the same sound as on the CD.

It was awesome, and the quartet was great. Since you can mix a CD to balance everything perfectly, the strings only add to the beauty of the CD. If I understand correctly, a number of people consider their mixer, Eddie Jackson, to be a genius, and listening to the CD, I have no reason to object to that.

Live, the strings add a lot, but they also detract/distract a bit, since the subtlety and blend of ambeR and Alex (both vocals and instruments) got run over just a drop.

Why are we so enamored by ambeR, Alex and The Paper Raincoat, separately and together? You’ll be sorry you asked, because there are many reasons, not all of which will be covered here (you’ll be thankful for my restraint). 🙂

They feel like the hardest working people in the industry (of course I’m sure that’s not true, meaning that so many talented musicians give it their all), but when I recount some of their accomplishments, you might agree that it at least feels like they are delivering on more levels than many, if not most.

We only discovered them in mid-April this year. In six months, here are the accomplishments I’m aware of, off the top of my head, with zero research, presented in no particular order:

  1. They recorded an incredible CD, including writing all of the songs (music and lyrics). Go out and buy it, you won’t regret it. If you’re nervous, listen to five of their songs on their MySpace page first.
  2. They arranged and produced the CD themselves.
  3. They designed all of the artwork and packaging for the CD, which is completely non-standard (i.e., very creative). (Update: as per the comment below from Alex, the artwork was hand drawn by Diana Ho!)

    Paper Raincoat CD Package

    Paper Raincoat CD Package

  4. They promoted the pre-release of the CD very creatively, and designed three levels of pre-orders to connect with existing fans, and have the fans help pay for this effort, while providing great value in exchange for paying a premium, early.
  5. They toured (and are touring) in support of the CD, as headliners and opening for the incredible Vienna Teng as well.
  6. ambeR put out her own CD (a solo effort: Good Mystery), and what an effort it is. I’ll admit here for the first time publicly that I was nervous that the quality of each CD would suffer because ambeR was working on both at the same time, and I was wrong, as both are spectacular!
  7. ambeR also designed the CD packaging, and the pre-order extravaganza, which included hand-made boxes to lovingly hold the CD. We cherish ours.
    Amber Rubarth Good Mystery Collectors Edition CD Package
  8. ambeR headlined Joe’s Pub for her own CD release party on August 21st, 2009. I covered that show in this post, and I repeat here that it was flat-out one of the best shows we’ve ever seen, and we see so many shows, so that statement still amazes even me. 😉
  9. ambeR arranged the entire show at Joe’s Pub, as well as her solo CD.
  10. ambeR toured extensively with Joshua Radin and Gary Jules, and received rave reviews all over.
  11. Alex produced CDs for Alex Berger and Ari Hest.
  12. Alex runs (probably with others, but like I said, I’m not doing research here!) AngelHouse Studios in Williamsburg, NY (that’s Brooklyn for those of you not in the know). 😉
  13. Alex tours with Vienna Teng as part of her trio. This is separate and apart from when The Paper Raincoat opens for Vienna, where I imagine he plays both sets!
  14. Both of them support many other musicians, some of whom they’ve co-written with, by unselfishly appearing as guests in their shows.
  15. Each is a multi-instrumentalist (OK, this isn’t an accomplishment in the past six months, but it deserves mention in a list of their talents, including the fact that they have to practice that much longer to stay on top of multiple instruments!). For The Paper Raincoat, ambeR is mostly a keyboard player (including electric, piano, glockenspiel, etc.). Last night, she played guitar just once, in the encore. For ambeR Rubarth solo artist, she plays way more guitar (wonderfully!). Alex plays guitar, keyboards and a few other things for The Paper Raincoat. He drums (among other things?) for Vienna Teng, and on various CDs.

    ambeR Rubarth Guitar

    ambeR Rubarth Guitar

  16. They both (separately and collectively) are very active with Social Media. While I’m connected to them through a number of channels, I consume most of their updates via Twitter: @Paper_Raincoat – @ambeRRubarth – @highceilings (the last one is Alex Wong’s Twitter handle). Aside from being active without being obnoxious, they offer specials (like details of secret shows) so it’s useful to follow them if you’re a fan. Also, they are very responsive and interactive with their fans. Finally, because they are part of a very large community of talented artists, just checking out who they communicate with allows you to discover other great musicians!
  17. They are both extremely nice people, who are very accessible. Even if you never see them live, you can tell from their lyrics how deep they are in addition to just being nice. And yes, for the record, being nice is definitely an accomplishment! 😉
  18. Last one: they are fan friendly. When we pre-ordered ambeR’s CD, and then again for The Paper Raincoat one, the minute the final masters were ready, everyone who pre-ordered was given a link to download a digital version of the CD, so we could begin to enjoy them before the physical CD was available. I’m sure other bands do it, but we have pre-ordered a number of CDs from other artists, and only ambeR and Alex have done this in our personal experience. Trust your fans (not necessarily the world), they really want to help you not hurt you.

OK, I could probably go on (Really? Yes!), but if I haven’t made my point yet, then I should give up trying to convince you anyway… 🙂

We hope that they continue to produce more Paper Raincoat goodness over the years, but either way, we are 100% sure that we’ll be following ambeR and Alex in many other projects that they are involved in. It’s inevitable!

I mentioned in my post on Sunday morning about Ceili Rain that we believe it’s important to find as many ways to support the groups you love as you can. The most straightforward way is to purchase merchandise (CDs, T-Shirts, Posters, etc.) at the shows that you attend. We do that, nearly every time.

Since we pre-ordered two packages of their top-level, which comes with four CDs between the two, we didn’t really need to buy anything last night. That’s not the point though, right? It’s about supporting them (you are paying attention, right?) so we bought 13 additional CDs last night to give away as gifts to friends who otherwise would be unlikely to check them out.

So, at least some of you who are reading this post will be the very lucky recipients of a free copy of a fantastic CD. Congratulations, you’ve indirectly supported The Paper Raincoat, and you can help spread the word. 🙂

Whew, this has been way long already, but I needed to get all this goodness out of my system. Unfortunately for those of you who have OCD, and can’t quit reading a post until it’s over, you still have a while to get to the end… 😉

In addition to last night being the CD release party for The Paper Raincoat, it was actually a co-billed show with another group, Elizabeth and the Catapult. We hadn’t heard them before, but I had heard the name and had no idea what to expect. Sorry, all the pics of E&TC came out too poorly to post. 🙁

Elizabeth Ziman is the heart and soul of the group. She has an absolutely extraordinary voice, completely captivating. She plays the piano exceptionally well. She played accordion (well) on one number, and guitar on one other number. Still, even though her piano skills are top notch, it’s the voice, the voice, seriously, it’s the voice!

The Catapult consists of two really good musicians that support her well. Pete Lalish plays guitar (and accordion on one song) and Danny Molad on drums (I also believe he’s Elizabeth’s boyfriend, but don’t quote me on that). They had a bass player with them last night whose name I didn’t catch. I just had to work way too hard to (possibly) find the right one: Emeen Zarookian.

It’s a shame that Elizabeth doesn’t name him in any of the interviews (though she raves about him), because he really seemed to be the glue that brought their sound to life! I’m hoping that I indentified him correctly!

There are no obviously good links to the music of Peter Lalish or Danny Molad (as individuals). Peter was good all night, possibly even better than that. Danny was superb on the drums, throughout the set.

They are very tight and produced a quality sound. So, perfect, a new band to follow around like lost puppy dogs, right? Unfortunately, not for us (but yes, for many other people, including most of the crowd that remained after The Paper Raincoat set).

First, pigeonholing their sound/style is hard, and possibly a bit unfair to them. Still, I’ll do it. They are a very interesting mix/blend of Jazz/Pop/Classical/Blues, put together in a very creative way. All of that is heavily tinged with Rock, even hard rock at times, so it’s really hard to say they’re this or that. They also write original songs, though they do perform a few covers.

None of the lyrics grabbed us. And yet, they’re a clear focus. Elizabeth has a lot to say, and she’s clearly doing it through her lyrics. I suspect that if I listened to them in the quiet of my headphones, perhaps even just once, I too would become a huge fan. On the other hand, most of the groups that I heard in concert first (Girlyman, The Paper Raincoat, Indigo Girls, etc.), I was mesmerized by the lyrics instantly. They hooked me right away.

Last night, I found myself drifting away from the lyrics, and allowing Elizabeth’s voice to wash over me, purely as an instrument. No complaints, but it did feel like something (ever-so-slight) was missing…

The other downside (no blame to anyone, just a harsh reality) is that it took 30 minutes to tear down The Paper Raincoat and set up Elizabeth and the Catapult. Given that The Paper Raincoat didn’t come on until 9:40pm, and played for nearly 50 minutes, Elizabeth and the Catapult didn’t come on stage until 11pm! That’s way past our bedtime (and now true fans of E&TC have a good excuse to ignore everything I’ve said about them!).

They played a long set (thanks for that, it made the value of the ticket price exceptional!), on stage for about 70 minutes. After saying goodbye to The Paper Raincoat, we got out of there at 12:15am. Way too late for these old folks, but an incredible night nonetheless.

P.S. While waiting on line to get in, we bumped into Jason Black who we met on September 21st at the Livestrong Fundraiser we attended. Then, while seated, we spotted Michelle Citrin walking by (she performed at the Fundraiser) and I had to stop her to tell her how absolutely awesome she was at that show!

Paper Raincoat at Rockwood Music Hall

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ambeR Rubarth and Alex Wong are two of the hardest working musicians in NYC’s vibrant indie music scene. Each has a number of projects going on simultaneously. They also regularly guest star at local shows with other indie rising stars.

The Paper Raincoat is their collaboration project, an ingenious concept, telling a long-running story (a novel), unfolding song after song. Of course, each song stands alone superbly on its own, making their music all the more delicious.

Paper Raincoat

Paper Raincoat

For those who missed it, I first wrote about The Paper Raincoat in April. More recently, I wrote about ambeR Rubarth’s CD Release Party at Joe’s Pub.

The Paper Raincoat is also having a CD Release Party at Joe’s Pub, on October 6th, at 9:30pm. We already have tickets, and I urge you to get yours soon, as there is little doubt that the show will sell out, and that it will be fantastic!

With that background, it should come as no surprise to find that ambeR and Alex joined in a new project last night, debuting at Rockwood Music Hall, called Cardboard Bikini. It was billed as a super secret show!

Before you rush around the web, spending too much time figuring out that this was a wonderful tongue-in-cheek play on Paper (Cardboard) Raincoat (Bikini), I’ll spare you the trouble, by sharing my perspective on why they did this at the end of the post (I have zero insight from them, just my speculation).

We’d never been to Rockwood Music Hall before, and were curious to check it out, as a number of people we like show up there regularly. It turns out that it’s a teeny tiny bar a few doors in on Allen Street, off of Houston Street. I chuckled when I got inside, at the Music Hall moniker…

All shows at Rockwood are free, and the vast majority last an hour. One drink minimum per person is required, and for some shows, a tip bucket is passed around at the end (last night included, most people donated, along with us).

Joining ambeR and Alex last night was Adam Christgau on drums, just as he did at the Canal Room show where we discovered them. Just like at that show, Adam was awesome last night. I am always impressed when a drummer can play it just right for the size of the room they’re in, and given the teeny size of Rockwood, Adam managed a very large sound, without ever stepping on ambeR or Alex.

Adam Christgau

Adam Christgau

Rockwood was packed to the gills. Roughly 20-25 people were seated at a handful of tables near the stage, and another 50-80 were packed in like sardines standing and enjoying the music. Lois was lucky (due to a number of selfless, kind people) to get the seat immediately in front of the stage, right in the center, between ambeR and Alex! I stood for the entire show, and enjoyed every second of it (except for the standing part). 😉

They opened the show with two of their hits, Brooklyn Blurs and Sympathetic Vibrations (two songs we can’t get enough of!). They played a few other songs that we’re familiar with, but in the middle of the set, they debuted (at least for us) a couple of songs that were fantastic. This included a song called Right Angles, where both Alex and ambeR play the grand piano simultaneously, meaning, four handed! Wonderful!

Alex Amber One Piano

Alex Amber One Piano

They closed the show with the same two numbers that they closed Canal Room with, and we can only hope that they do it again at Joe’s Pub, because they bring the house down every time. On the first one, all three end up drumming on Adam’s drum set at the same time. It’s incredible. At Canal Room, Lois was the designated tambourine player. Last night, a wonderful NYC musician named Adam Levy (I covered him in the ambeR post) had the honor.

Adam is pictured in the front here, with the tambourine in his hand:

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

The Famous Tambourine

The Famous Tambourine

They finished up with an a capella number, including Adam, which is a joy to experience. Quite a transition from pure drumming, to pure singing (well, not so pure, as they use their bodies for percussion to accompany the a capella singing, and I’ll say no more, just go see them!). 🙂

Adam Amber Alex A Capella

Adam Amber Alex A Capella

The only disappointment was that setting up on the tiny stage required more maneuvering than normal, and it took them longer to finish the setup than they anticipated. So, instead of the show starting at 10pm as scheduled, they started playing at 10:25pm. They played over their 11pm limit (by 11 minutes), to make up a bit of it, but otherwise, an amazing evening.

Now, my speculation as to why the show was billed as Cardboard Bikini, not Paper Raincoat (to repeat my caveat, this is only my opinion, I have no idea whether this is correct or not!):

  1. The official CD Release Party is October 6th, and they wanted a way to test out some of the new material live, in anticipation of the Joe’s Pub show, without the pressure of formally debuting it as Paper Raincoat.
  2. Rockwood Music Hall is so small, and Paper Raincoat has a very nice following (as do ambeR and Alex separately), that if they had announced a formal show, lots of people would have been disappointed to not even be able to fit. While they not-so-secretly announced it to their Twitter/Facebook/MySpace followers, at least people who checked out the Rockwood web site, or follow other concert update sites, might have skipped a show by the unknown band Cardboard Bikini. (A good reason for you to follow them on Twitter/Facebook/MySpace!)
  3. They have a great sense of humor, and the whole concept of a top-secret, not-so-secret show, with a clever name, appealed to them for no other reason.
  4. All of the above.
  5. None of the above.

Come see them at Joe’s Pub on October 6th, and buy the new CD there (you won’t regret it). Also, consider signing up for the mailing list and getting the announcement for pre-orders. That’s always a great way to support a band that you like! Hope to see you there!

P.S. Standing right behind me for the entire set was Greg Holden, another excellent artist who is about to start a long tour with the wonderful Ingrid Michaelson. I really want to catch him live, soon. I wouldn’t have recognized him. He said to someone else that Adam Christgau is his drummer too, so I asked Adam after the show who it was, and he told me it was Greg. Cool! 🙂