Adam Levy

The Milk Carton Kids at Joe’s Pub

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The Milk Carton Kids (MCK) headlined Joe’s Pub last night. We bought tickets ages ago. We caught their first ever NYC show (after they officially formed MCK) almost five month ago. Sadly, we missed two NYC shows between then and last night.

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My post about that NYC debut show went into great detail describing the group, each of their individual styles, how we came to know them, what their business model is, etc. Rather than repeat all that, if you have interest in knowing more about them (and how great I think they are), please read that post.

I’ll add a few thoughts about last night’s show.

We love Joe’s Pub, in particular since the internal renovation (the exterior still has a ton of work left and the kitchen reno hasn’t even begun). The sound system was perfect (it usually is), so there was no distraction or straining to enjoy MCK.

Joey and Kenneth are always funny, with Joey typically doing much more of the talking. Last night, Kenneth piped up more often. It was an edgier, biting humor (I’m being polite) that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Joey’s responses/reactions to it were priceless, so in the end I was fine with it too. It will be interesting to see whether this was planned/calculated and will be repeated, or whether it was extemporaneous and fleeting (I’m hoping for the latter, even though I laughed).

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They were truly amazing last night (not a single complaint). That said, I believe the Rockwood show in October 2011 was technically better.

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Joey and Kenneth are very good friends with another top guitar player, NYC-based Adam Levy. In addition to giving guitar lessons, Adam tweets guitar tips on a regular basis. I doubt they changed their styles as a result of anything Adam tweeted publicly, but I was struck by the fact that they are the perfect poster boys for Adam’s advice. Specifically:

Don’t watch your hands.Nothing to see there.Look around-at audience, fellow musicians, the scenery.

As incredible as both are on the guitar (completely different styles), neither ever looks at their hands/guitar while they’re singing. They rarely look down when they’re just playing either.

I can’t find the set of tweets that covered this next tip, so I’ll paraphrase and butcher it, sorry:

If you play acoustic guitar, unless there’s a really good reason to (which there rarely is), don’t use pickups and an amplifier, use a microphone to amplify your guitar. It makes everything simpler, less things to travel with and less things that can go wrong.

MCK do exactly that. Four microphones on stage, two for their voices, two for their guitars. They can travel lightly (which in this business, means simplicity and money-savings). When Kenneth wants to tune his guitar, he steps a few feet back from the mic. He doesn’t need to dork with pedal boards, electronic tuners, signaling the sound guy that he’s about to unplug, etc.

If you’re interested in more of Adam’s tips/lessons, look here.

Here is the set list from last night:

SetList

MCK had an opener. It’s extremely rare for most of the clubs that we frequent to make any announcements (headliners or openers). At some point, one or more people are on stage, milling about. You hear a bunch of “check, check”, some tuning, but mostly, you hear the crowd carrying on, ignoring what’s happening on stage. Then the lights get a bit dimmer, and the person or group on stage either starts playing, or perhaps they say hello and introduce themselves.

In an even rarer event than the venue making an announcement, Joey Ryan (1/2 of the MCK) came out and gave a moving introduction of the opener. We know from past experience that Joey is a class act in every respect, so this wasn’t a surprise in terms of his behavior, but it was a surprise to have anyone mention the name of the opener before they hit the stage.

Trevor Menear is a solo singer/songwriter, accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar. I’m typically a big fan of this kind of music (having come of age to Bob Dylan) and I can see Trevor’s appeal in that regard. As good a job as he did, for whatever reason, I wasn’t particularly drawn to his songs.

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His guitar play was quite good when he wasn’t singing (during the bridges, or intro/closing), but was less polished (for the most part) while he was singing. That said, later in the set he switched to finger-picking on a couple of songs, and I shifted in my seat to pay more attention. He has skills.

I enjoyed his set, but I wouldn’t normally run out to see him again. Given how much Joey promoted him (at the end of the MCK set as well), he’s worth another listen (or two, or three), to see what I might be missing. Trevor is currently touring with MCK, so if  you’re about to see them, you’ll see him, and can form your own opinion.

After the set we got to say a quick hi to Joey. Lois snapped this photo of Joey with two of our other favorite musicians:

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Then we bumped into Philip Ettinger. I’ve written about Phil once before and mentioned him in another post. Phil is an actor that you all better keep an eye on, he’s going places, mark my words. Of course, we forced him to pose for this shot:

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Lois forced me to pose for one as well:

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Another fun evening out seeing great music. Back for more music starting Sunday at 5pm (Zach Jones at Rockwood 1), then Rebecca Haviland on Monday night at Rockwood 2 (7:30pm).

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Alex Berger lives in London. That’s sad enough (for us, not necessarily for him), but the really sad part is that we get to see him perform rather infrequently. When he’s in town, and schedules a show, it’s a must-see event. Last night was the night!

From the first time we saw Alex perform (9/21/2009), I considered him to be an excellent songwriter, a great piano player and a constantly improving (and interesting!) guitar player. Add to those basics his absolutely amazing voice (last night showed off a multi-octave range) and his warm/funny/engaging/relaxed stage presence, and you can be sure we’ll be coming to see him for years to come.

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In addition to playing the title cut from his previous (still current) CD, Snow Globe (a multi award-winning number), Alex mostly played songs from his upcoming (as yet unrecorded) CD. I really love every song that I’ve heard. In addition to being great songs in general, Alex seems to have found a niche (for my taste) in making people laugh out loud at his lyrics.

In other words, he’s translated the easy warmth/humor in his stage banter to fantastic lyrics/images in song. What makes them more special is his delivery. Comedy has two necessary components: the actual material (the thing that makes our brains recognize the twist) and the delivery (which is most often accentuated by comedic timing). Alex has crafted funny songs, but his timing/pacing in delivering those lines is impeccable.

I can’t wait for this CD to be made. I have helped make that a reality, and if you want to do me (and yourself) a personal favor, you’ll help too! Alex is raising money to have it produced (again, like his previous award-winning effort, by the equally amazing Alex Wong). You can click on this link to contribute.

This new CD is full of songs that Alex co-wrote with other talented singer/songwriters. Three of them guest-starred to sing and play the songs with Alex. He also had some special musical guests and even a dancer (yes, it was a spectacle). So, let’s get to it.

Ward Williams joined Alex to open the show. In addition to setting up his cello, Ward pulled over one of the mics from center stage. He noted that he needed it for the big surprise finish. That surprise? Ward singing gorgeous harmony with Alex at the very end of the song. Needless to say, Ward’s cello play was outstanding, complementing Alex’s equally amazing piano play.

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Adam Levy joined Alex to accompany him on their song, A Kiss is as Sweet. Alex sang, Adam sweetly finger-picked the electric guitar, including taking a very long and wonderful solo in the middle.

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Ari Hest joined to sing harmony and finger-pick an acoustic guitar on their co-written number. The interplay with the piano and guitar was beautiful, and Ari’s voice is always wonderful, solo or singing harmony (with pretty much anyone!). Smile

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Andrew Nemr joined to add percussion to the next song. Well, it was a bit more complicated that that, as the percussion was actually delivered via tap dancing. Andrew is a top dancer.

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He danced on two numbers. On the first, Alex played the guitar (wonderfully!). On the second, Alex sang The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), almost a cappella. There was an amazing bass player who provided the only accompaniment (described next). At one point, it was just Andrew dancing and the bass player, with Alex watching in amazement.

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Gregory Jones was the bass player, on the upright. He was wonderful on Alex’s song, but really came to life when he was the sole instrument (if you don’t include the sound made by tap shoes) on The Christmas Song. Very well done!

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Jay Stolar came up to sing and play acoustic guitar on their co-written number, Last Night in Tokyo (one of the ones that slays me). They asked Martin Rivas to join them so they could amp up the three-part harmony. An absolutely perfect way to end an exceptional set!

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We got to say hi to so many people before the show (some that we see all the time, and some that only come out for special occasions, of which Alex Berger is obviously one). More photos were taken as we were leaving (after the next set, covered separately), so here are only a few of the ones that were taken before Alex’s set:

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Gaby Moreno at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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One of the joys of seeing as much live music as we do is the ever-growing universe of amazing performers we are exposed to. This happens when an opener blows us away, or even when the headliner does, when we showed up for the opener. On occasion it happens when we stick around for a set or show up early to grab a seat, and discover a treat.

Gaby Moreno opened last night for The Milk Carton Kids (Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale) a show we weren’t going to miss. I’ll post about their set next, but Gaby (and band) deserve a post of their own (and yes, now I follow her on Twitter so I’ll be sure to catch her the next time she plays in NY as well).

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I had seen her name only in conjunction with the current Milk Carton Kids tour (she’s been opening for them), but otherwise had no idea what I was in for.

Gaby sang, extraordinarily, and accompanied herself beautifully on acoustic guitar. Her voice is exceptional in that she changes it to match whatever song she’s singing, and she took us on quite a wide tour of styles last night. In addition to the change in styles, Gaby performed roughly 60% (probably more) of the show in Spanish (she is a native of Guatemala) with the remainder in flawless English.

I learned (accidentally) that I am in love with Spanish songs (even though I understand less than a handful of words) from seeing Ximena Sarinana perform a number of times. Since I am a lover of lyrics, I’m thinking I better start learning Spanish.

Gaby’s voice ranged from throaty to angelic, always appropriate to the mood. A good portion of the huge crowd was clearly there for her (they knew her songs and swayed in ecstasy to them).

Supporting Gaby on either side of her:

Adam Levy on acoustic guitar and light vocals. We’ve seen Adam a number of times. He’s an excellent guitarist (formerly part of Norah Jones band). He can play a number of styles and I have to say that last night was perhaps my favorite performance of his. He nailed every lead and the crowd let him know it, each time (as did Gaby!).

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Sebastian Aymanns on cajon, percussion and light vocals (no good individual link). Sebastian was excellent on the cajon. He also had two different kinds of shakers, attached to straps, on each of his ankles. One was multi-colored balls, the other was more like a small tambourine. As he tapped his feet on the stage, each produced a lovely sound, enriching his cajon play.

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An absolute treat to be able to enjoy an opening act without constantly staring at your watch to see how much longer until the headliner comes on stage.

ambeR Rubarth and Adam Levy at 55 Bar

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ambeR Rubarth and Adam Levy are doing a residency at 55 Bar, performing there at 7pm every Wednesday in August. Of their four appearances, the only one that we could attend was last night, and we are both very glad we got to see them (the rest of you still have two more shots to soak in the fun!).

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We’d never been to 55 Bar before. It’s quite small. As long as we get seats up front, we’re of the opinion that the smaller the better, so this place was great!

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We showed up 15 minutes early, and the place was practically empty, so we got the two seats right near the stage (it’s not raised, just the area where ambeR and Adam would be playing). In fact, ambeR was running late and wasn’t there yet. We got to chat a bit with Adam as he was setting up.

Adam told us that he’s recording a new CD in September, and he’s attempting to fund it like many other artists are nowadays, through Kickstarter. If you’re a fan of Adam, or want to support this kind of music in general, please donate to his effort. Here’s the direct link to Adam’s Kickstarter Page.

A minute later ambeR showed up, and a few minutes after that a crowd showed up (perhaps ambeR shared a clown-cab with a few dozen people). 😉

We’ve seen ambeR in many different types of venues, from the small (Tin Angel and Rockwood Music Hall) to the large (Highline Ballroom), with each show having a very different character. This was probably the smallest room, and we were a few feet from her with no raised stage, so it felt like she was serenading us alone, in our living room. We loved every second of it.

In addition to a few of our favorites, ambeR played two new songs that we’d never heard. Both were wonderful (as Lois enthusiastically proclaimed after each).

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ambeR and Adam mostly traded off two-songs at a time, with Adam playing guitar on most of ambeR’s numbers. I requested Washing Day (which they co-wrote) and it was one of a few songs that they sang together (trading verses and singing harmony).

Adam Levy is a master guitar player, who also writes wonderful songs and sings them with a soulful gravelly voice. We’ve seen him a number of times and enjoyed each show, but last night was the best of them, largely due to the intimacy.

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Without a band (which we experienced once before at Jammin’ Java), he is free to play softly and not feel like he’s hogging the spotlight with his guitar leads. It’s easy to get carried away by him (and with him).

In addition to a couple of Cole Porter covers, and one by NRBQ, Adam also played one of my favorites of his, No Dancing (which he’s hoping/expecting to include on the new CD). ambeR sang harmony with him on that.

Including a short intermission, they were on for just under two hours. The audience was wonderful. There wasn’t a peep during the songs, even though this is a bar. These were music lovers first and foremost.

ambeR Rubarth and Adam Levy at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Another night, another show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, same old, same old. 🙂

This night featured a totally different type of music, but was similar in that we love this group of performers as did the rest of the crowd.

The co-billed show was ambeR Rubarth (we love her solo, with a band, and when she’s half of the duo The Paper Raincoat) and Adam Levy who is a wonderful guitarist and singer/songwriter.

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Adam had his band, the Mint Imperials backing him (I’ll cover them later), and they backed up ambeR on the majority of her numbers as well.

Adam, ambeR and the band came out together and opened with an Adam number. Then Adam introduced ambeR’s song Edge of My Seat with a crack that didn’t seem like a song intro until the last second.

After that, it was a bit more of ambeR’s set than Adam’s, with Adam supporting her (with his patented bluesy guitar riffs and harmony vocals).

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Then she invited Alex Wong up, her cohort in The Paper Raincoat. They played In the Creases (one of our favorites) just the two of them. ambeR offered Alex the guitar, but he deferred to her, so Alex just sang with ambeR supplying the music.

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Just as quickly as he was on the stage, Alex was off like a shot. He had his own show across town starting a bit later that he had to get to. I’ll write a separate post about that right after this one.

ambeR also performed solo and one number on the Grand Piano accompanied by the band. She closed her set with Novocaine, one of my personal favorites!

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The focus shifted to Adam’s songs. Adam had excellent energy and the crowd was definitely feeling it. He played quite a few numbers, including No Dancing, a ton-of-fun song.

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They wrapped it up with a song that they co-wrote (the first one they wrote together), Washing Day. It’s a wonderful song and doesn’t require any extras. But, what an extra they threw in to delight us last night.

They invited Ian Axel to join them (recall our experience from the night before in the same place!). Ian played a wonderful piano solo that was icing on a soulful cake. A great way to end an excellent show.

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Back to the band.

Tony Mason played drums. He’s a solid drummer and took a wonderful solo on No Dancing. We’ve seen him with Adam once before.

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Andy Hess played the electric bass. This was our first time seeing Andy as Adam had a fill-in bass player the last time we saw him. I was very impressed with Andy and I look forward to seeing him play again.

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Opening for ambeR and Adam was Ed Romanoff. We’ve seen Ed once before at the Haiti Benefit at City Winery, but haven’t had the pleasure of seeing him perform a solo set.

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He has an extremely mellow folk/blues style and we really liked his set a lot. He’s very warm on stage and we chuckled a bunch. He also told one very personal story as an intro to a song. He’s a good story-teller, but the story itself is even more incredible. Even though he told it publicly, and I feel I could repeat it, just go see him and hope he tells it himself.

Accompanying Ed was Oscar Albis Rodriguez on electric guitar and very light harmony. I have to start a separate paragraph to make sure you’re paying attention:

Wow!

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I was hugely impressed with Oscar. He gently danced in and around Ed’s acoustic guitar and singing, always complementing and enhancing, and never interfering or overwhelming. On the few occasions where Ed stepped back and invited Oscar to take the lead, he was incredibly tasty and interesting.

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Wow, just to make sure you didn’t miss it above. What makes this even more amazing to me (after the fact) is that I checked out some of Oscar’s own music, and it’s much harder rock, so he’s really versatile!

Adam Christgau (one of our favorite drummers) joined Ed and Oscar on stage for one number. He didn’t play the drums. He played a frisbee with a single brush stick. It’s one of Adam’s signature things. 🙂

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ambeR also joined in on the same number that Adam Christgau played on, sitting at the piano (without playing). She and Ed sang very nicely together.

We ran out immediately and grabbed a cab with another couple to head over to see Alex Wong’s show. Check out the next post to read about that one. 🙂

Alex Wong and Adam Levy at Rockwood

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Last night was a real treat for us. We got to see one of our favorite musicians perform his first solo show. We also caught the set before his, which was wonderful, and I’ll cover that as well.

Alex Wong is an incredible talent, something I repeat very often (well deserved repetition). We never had the pleasure of seeing him with his original group, The Animators, but we’ve seen him often as part of The Paper Raincoat (a group he formed with ambeR Rubarth) and when he tours with Vienna Teng (something he’s doing again starting tonight in Atlantic City).

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He has delighted us since the first time we saw him. It is my understanding that Alex isn’t looking to launch a solo career, but rather, as with many artists, he continually wants to stretch and grow. Playing solo affords him the opportunity to do that.

He played a mix of his own, The Paper Raincoat and The Animators songs. His selection was outstanding. For The Paper Raincoat (TPR) songs (Brooklyn Blurs, The Same Old Things, Don’t Be Afraid and Motion Sickness), hearing them in the pure mellowness of just Alex with the guitar was a nice change-of-pace. That said, I’m nowhere near getting enough of TPR’s sound.

Adam Levy (covered in more detail below) accompanied Alex on an electric guitar on two songs (possibly three). One was the first song Alex Wong wrote with Devon Copley (his partner in The Animators) A Girl Like You. The other was In the Creases, a song Alex wrote with ambeR Rubarth before they formed TPR (one of our favorite songs!).

Adam was a great addition on both songs, in particular on In the Creases, where his leads were fantastic. On Creases, he also sang harmony. He didn’t have a microphone in front of him, but since I was three feet away, I could hear how good a job he did. 🙂

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Alex didn’t come on until 11pm. Even though it was that late, in the middle of the week, there was a really nice-sized crowd at Rockwood Music Hall. When Alex finished his set, the applause wouldn’t die down. He had already unplugged his acoustic guitar from the amp, but it was obvious that people weren’t going to stop clapping until he played another song.

Alex looked up at the sound engineer, who nodded to him that he could play another one. He closed the show with Motion Sickness. Like I already said, a real treat for us, even though it was way past our bedtime.

A number of the people that we are thrilled to see on stage were in the audience. In particular, Tony Maceli, Ward Williams and Melissa Tong. Always nice to see them, even if they aren’t part of the show. We also bumped into three more friends there, proving yet again that Alex has a strong following.

Adam Levy played the 10pm set with a band. He wasn’t opening for Alex. Rockwood typically has 45-minute sets with 15-minute breaks for the next artist to set up.

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We’ve seen Adam perform solo (at Jammin’ Java). We’ve seen him back Alex Berger, and we’ve seen him perform duets with ambeR Rubarth. This is the first time we saw him with a band. Hopefully, it won’t be the last!

For those who don’t know, Adam Levy was the guitar player in Norah Jones band, both touring and on at least three of her CDs. ‘Nuff said!

He plays a number of styles and exhibited Country, Jazz, Blues and Folk last night (perhaps more?). He has a gravelly voice, but it’s compelling and draws you in to the song.

Tony Mason on drums. In addition to playing solidly throughout the set, Tony distinguished himself on one extremely tasty drum solo. He also played sidekick to Adam on a number of bits/banter. Clearly, they are friends and mesh together well.

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Jonathan Maron played the bass (I can’t be sure the link is correct since there’s no picture on that profile). He was good throughout the set, but not highlighted.

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We already own Adam’s EP that he recently put out with ambeR Rubarth, but after his set, we also picked up his CD Washing Day (also the name of a song that he co-wrote with ambeR, which we really like!).

We met a friend for dinner before the show. We wandered into Noodle Bar on a whim. We ordered three dishes (one rice, one noodle and one soup) plus ice cream for dessert. I was impressed with every one. The only disappointment came when the bill arrived, and it turned out that they are a cash-only establishment. I had enough (it’s not a very expensive place), but it could have been awkward if it was a few dollars more…

Another wonderful evening out, adding to our already indescribable exhaustion.

ambeR Rubarth at Highline Ballroom

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amber Rubarth is an extraordinary singer/songwriter. I’ve written about her many times. Here is the post about her CD Release Party at Joe’s Pub. Last night she headlined the Highline Ballroom and created another exceptional performance (a DVD of the show will be available later this year!).

Highline Ballroom is the biggest stage and room we’ve seen ambeR in to date. She nailed it both with a full band (eight people on stage at one point) and solo, owning the room at both ends of the spectrum.

She opened with the core of the full band, performing Full Moon in Paris from her current CD, Good Mystery. Throughout the set, musicians came and went in a fluid transition to create the right sound for each number.

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The core band consisted of:

Tony Maceli on bass (upright and electric). I’ve written about Tony many times, including the above-referenced show at Joe’s Pub. He’s consistently wonderful on the bass, and was the musical coordinator for the New York Sings for Haiti benefit at City Winery. He’s tireless and a positive addition to anyone he’s performing with.

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Dave Eggar on cello. I’ve written about Dave twice before. He’s beyond awesome. He does things with/on the cello that you don’t typically see others attempt, let alone nail, including playing it across his knee like it was a guitar. He plays effortless leads on the cello that are as mesmerizing as great lead guitar solos.

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All of that would be impressive enough (like I said, we felt that way from the first time we saw him) but last night was even more amazing. He’s never played with ambeR before, and rehearsed with her for the first time just 24 hours before show time. That would be fine if he were playing some light background role. He was not. His parts in each song were the highlights of the instrumental sections, and ambeR had a tough time containing her joy every time he thrilled the crowd!

Sarab Singh (ambeR introduced him as Sar Singh) played the drums. While we were somewhat disappointed that Adam Christgau wasn’t there last night (one of our favorite drummers, and normally drumming for ambeR and The Paper Raincoat), ambeR has excellent tastes in drummers all around. At her CD Release show Billy Hawn played (excellent).

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Sar was fantastic at the Haiti benefit, so I didn’t worry in advance whether he’d be good. Thankfully, he was great, not just good. He has the same sensibilities that Adam has, knowing exactly how to deliver not just the right beat, but the right touch, including all the right sound effects (cow bell, rims of the drums, etc.) at the exact right moment.

I’m pretty sure Adam will be playing with Ian Axel tonight at Joe’s Pub, so we’ll get our fix then, and we can now safely add Sar Singh to our list of drummers who will enhance any performers show!

In addition to the above core, Threeds played on at least three numbers (coincidence? I think not!) 😉 and they were awesome, as always. They are an integral part of the ever-wonderful In the Creases and Edge of My Seat.

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Paul Brill came out to sing with ambeR on three numbers as well (including playing the part of Alex Wong on In The Creases).

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David Fallo joined for one number on viola.

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I mentioned above the fluidity of getting people on and off the stage. With eight people on stage for Edge of My Seat, ambeR transitioned to just two, she and Dave Eggar for Rough Cut. Dave was spectacular on every number, but this one truly highlighted him, as he carried every second that ambeR wasn’t singing (and of course, supported her voice and guitar even when she was singing!).

Dave then quietly stepped off the stage and ambeR debuted a solo number called Lonelier Self (that might just be the short version, or working title). A gorgeous song that had all eyes and ears focused on ambeR. I doubt there was a single person there wondering where the rest of the band was.

After a one hour set, capped off with a Tom Waits cover (sung with Paul Brill), ambeR came out for an encore. She performed Washing Day (a song she co-wrote with Adam Levy). Joining her were Dave Eggar and special guest star Ian Axel (who has his own show tonight at Joe’s Pub).

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We hung around a bit afterward to catch up with some folks, and to buy a couple more of ambeR’s CDs to give as gifts. An absolutely fantastic night out!

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Opening the show was Cara Salimando accompanied by Julia Sinclair. Cara is a 17-year-old singer/songwriter. She played electric piano on all but one number, where she finger-picked the ukulele quite beautifully. She has an excellent voice, but still has some work to do to smoothly hit some of the higher notes. She’s young, it will come in time, I’m sure.

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Julia Sinclair accompanied her on every song, playing half on the cello and half on the guitar. She also sang harmony a bit, not enough if you ask me. She plays the cello very well (though there was a slight buzz on the bass notes). I was more impressed with her guitar play. She’s an excellent complement to Cara. The set was exactly 30 minutes.

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After resetting the stage, Kaiser Cartel came out. Kaiser Cartel is a duo comprising Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel (however did they come up with the name of the band?). They’re a reasonably straightforward rock ‘n roll band, putting out a pretty big sound for just two people (though they were joined for two or three numbers by someone who’s name I thought was Jeff Kraft, but now I’m sure that’s wrong).

Here’s a picture of the guy whose name I’m not remembering, sorry!:

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Courtney has an exceptional voice. She mostly played the acoustic guitar, but it was also connected to a muff pedal so she created some classical electric guitar sounds. She also played what seemed like a one-handed accordion. She played with her right hand and used the left to pull the bellows part in and out. She also played a glockenspiel, but with an electric device (looked like a cross between a grouting tool and an electric toothbrush!) so she got a fast ringing sound (like a telephone!) every time she struck a key!

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Benjamin has a nice voice and harmonized well with Courtney. He played drums and acoustic guitar. One some songs he only played the drums. On the others he played the guitar, but continued to play the drum line with his foot. It contributed to their big sound for just two people.

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Nina Lee on cello joined them for two numbers. She’s excellent!

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For their last number they did something very cool. Courtney asked the crowd to be as quiet as they could. They then came off the stage and walked throughout the entire audience (covering a very large room) and sang a song (Benjamin played the guitar, unplugged of course) stopping at practically every table and singing a line within a few inches of the people sitting there. It was pretty powerful to be so up close and personal.

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They were on for roughly 45 minutes before ambeR came out. If you want to help them fund their new CD, the info is below (click any picture in this post to enlarge it):

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When we were heading down in the cab I tweeted a friend asking if she’d be there. She showed up a little later with her friend and they were able to join us at our table right up at the stage so we had some good times and good food before the show started. They bought CDs from ambeR too and the four of us shared a cab home after the show.

Closing with a pet peeve. I’ve written too many times (here we go again) about how rude some people can be when they speak loudly during a performance. That happened a bit last night too (not too bad for such a large room). But, what shocked me was that the worst offender last night was a performer. We’ve seen this person on stage once before (no names) so it was doubly shocking that they would ever treat someone in a manner that I can only imagine would annoy them if it happened during their show. Oh well…

Alex Berger and The Bowmans at Living Room

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

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

AlexBergerPiano

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

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

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

AdamLevyAlexBerger

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

TonyMacelli

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

AlexBergerGuitar

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

AdamChristgau

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

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

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

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

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

SarahBowman SarahBowman2

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

ClaireBowman1Tambourine ClaireBowman2Tambourines ClaireBowmanGlockenspiel

Glockenspiel

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

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

Amber Rubarth and Adam Levy at Jammin Java

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If you’ve been here before, you know we’re big fans of ambeR Rubarth both as a solo artist, and as part of The Paper Raincoat. It’s no big surprise that we would try to arrange our schedule to catch one of her shows.

What’s a bit of a surprise was trying to arrange our schedule to see her in another state (not NY), and using the opportunity to surprise her as well! We’ve been on the road for a bit longer than usual, having spent Thanksgiving in Birmingham, AL. We could have gotten home a day or two earlier, but chose to work in VA those days to catch ambeR and Adam Levy at Jammin’ Java.

We had heard good things about the venue, so we were interested in checking that out as well. ambeR and Adam were opening for Brooke Waggoner, whom I will say a few words about at the end.

We were expecting ambeR and Adam to be playing together for their entire set, because they are touring in promotion of their new EP. That’s not what happened. ambeR came out first, with her guitar. She did a solo set for 30 minutes. Fantastic!

We’ve seen ambeR a number of times now, and have loved every show. For the most part, she has been accompanied by at least two other musicians. I have mentioned in those posts that while she arranges most of the music, she is so strong on her own that the others are gravy to her meatloaf. Last night, the meatloaf was cooked to perfection. 🙂

ambeRRubarth

There was a 13-minute intermission after ambeR’s set, then Adam came out and did a wonderful set. We have only seen Adam once before, performing a duet with ambeR at Joe’s Pub during ambeR’s CD Release party. That was great, but seeing Adam command the stage himself was a real treat.

He has a terrific voice, writes excellent songs, and plays the guitar particularly well. He takes nice/tasty leads at least once every song, and they are always welcome.

AdamLevy

Toward the end of his set he invited ambeR to join him for his last two numbers. Both were excellent, and included the song they performed at Joe’s Pub, Washing Day, which they performed as well (if not better) than they did at Joe’s. Including his time with ambeR, Adam was on stage for a little over 30 minutes.

AdamLevyAmberRubarth

After a nine minute break, Brooke Waggoner came out. She sings and plays electric keyboards. She is really incredible on the keyboards, playing many styles and sounds (from classical piano, to funky electronica beats, with jazzy sounds in between).

She has a really good voice too. We weren’t drawn in by the lyrics themselves, so I can’t comment on how good a songwriter she is. In any event, her voice complements the keyboards, or vice versa, so no problem either way.

BrookeWaggoner

Including a one-song encore, which she seemed a tad reluctant to return for, she was on stage for a little over an hour.

Jammin’ Java is a really nice place, and my Chili was superb. It is now squarely on our list of venues to keep an eye on, and take advantage of whenever we are in VA (which is all too often…).

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We were planning on spending the night in a hotel and returning to NYC this morning. Amazingly, I had a burst of energy when we started driving, and we made it all the way to NY, getting to the apartment at 2:25am. Long day, but worth it! 🙂

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! 🙂