Alex Wong

The Paper Raincoat at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Q: What word describes the following situation? You’re old and exhausted and one of your favorite bands schedules a show at 6pm!

A: Perfect! 🙂

That’s exactly what happened last night. The Paper Raincoat played a show at 6pm at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. The only worry in our minds (possibly in theirs too) was whether people would show up that early. No need to worry folks, the place was packed to the teeth with people spilling out the door. Of course, we got there very early and snagged the two seats at center stage.

I know that most of the people who read this blog know about The Paper Raincoat (TPR) already, but for the Google robot out there, it’s a duo comprised of ambeR Rubarth and Alex Wong, each tremendous talents in their own right, that prove (yet again) that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts!

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Alex joked a number of times that they were playing the Happy Hour show. As Ken Rockwood himself joked back: “Every hour is Happy Hour at Rockwood!”. 😉

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They played a nine-song set (not including the encore). If you’re a fan, you’ll know how good a selection it was. Either way, let me assure you that it was extremely well received by the audience.

SetList

To give you a sense of how unusual the scene was, ambeR lost her place in Sympathetic Vibrations for a second. She always nails that one (though I won’t be able to say always any longer) 😉 and she explained that seeing so many people jammed into Rockwood that early distracted her. I don’t doubt that!

When they started Sympathetic Vibrations, Alex turned to the crowd and said: “You know your part.” We did. We (everyone, not just Lois and me) clapped our part perfectly, loudly, in unison. ambeR recovered from her momentary lapse by joking that at least we knew our part. 😉

When Alex introduced January, he explained that it should be thought about from the perspective of an older drunk guy. To ensure that we really understood that, three members of the band (I’ll cover each individually shortly) switched places, ensuring that they were no longer superstars on their respective instruments. It was fresh and fun. ambeR played the drums. She’s tweeted that she’s practicing but I didn’t expect to see the result so soon.

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On Right Angles both Alex and ambeR played on the grand piano at the same time:

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On It All Depends, they ended with their signature drumming extravaganza. First, they warmed it up by getting the audience to clap in a fast and steady beat. Then Alex joined Kevin with the two of them drumming together, with the audience never missing a beat. Then ambeR joined them with all three drumming on the same drum set (well, to be honest, Alex had a snare a little off to Kevin’s left). It was as awesome as it always is, perhaps a drop more.

Both Alex and ambeR play a number of instruments. At times, Alex plays multiple ones simultaneously:

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Closing the show (not the encore) with Rewind, ambeR, Alex and Kevin were awesome. The only thing that differentiates some previous TPR shows is that when Adam Christgau does Rewind, he also sings, making it three-part harmony at some points. Kevin doesn’t sing, but the three of them still make live magic every time they perform this song.

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ambeR and Alex returned to thunderous applause for an encore without the band. They played In the Creases, a song they co-wrote before TPR existed. We love the song. Lois felt it was the best rendition she had heard. I loved it, but I doubt I’ll ever experience it like I did at Joe’s Pub for ambeR’s CD release party, when Vienna Teng sang three-part harmony with them, and Katie Scheele played the oboe, and a full band supported them (including Vienna on the grand piano).

On to the wonderful band:

Kevin Rice on drums. Kevin was the original drummer for TPR, though for the first few shows that we saw them, Adam Christgau was their drummer. Kevin is awesome (as is Adam!) and many of the TPR songs allow great drummers to stretch a bit. The beat is such an integral part of the songs and Kevin never disappoints. For January, Kevin switched to the electric bass. He did a very nice job.

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Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony was great all night (as he always is). He’s a lot more understated than a number of the bassists we’ve seen recently, but that’s one of the things that makes him a great match for a lot of groups, his bottom is there for them, without Tony (or his riffs) becoming a distraction to their music. For January, Tony took ambeR’s place. He played the electric keyboards with his left hand, and the trumpet with his right! Bravo Tony!

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Melissa Tong on violin. Melissa always delights us and last night was no exception. Many groups add strings to their CD’s without ever using them live. TPR (and ambeR and Alex individually) often have strings on stage, creating the same huge, rich sound that they deliver in studio. While Melissa (and David, up next) were excellent throughout, they were really brought to the forefront in the opening of Right Angles, which is mostly strings for the first 45 seconds. Gorgeous!

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David Fallo on viola. David is wonderful on the viola. In addition to playing on all the numbers that Melissa played on, David also played on one that Melissa sat out. Everything that I said above about Melissa, in particular about Right Angles, applies equally to David!

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I already mentioned that we grabbed the two seats front and center. Joining us at our table were three very interesting people that we hadn’t met before, but had shared a number of shows together. Getting to know them before the show started made the time fly (another advantage of getting there early) and we look forward to seeing them at many shows in the future!

Here’s hoping that when we get even older, and NYC kicks us out and forces us to move to Florida, that TPR will show up and play a 3pm show for us while we grab our early-bird dinner special. 😉

Alex Wong at Caffe Vivaldi

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After seeing Alex Wong perform a cameo appearance at ambeR Rubarth’s Rockwood Music Hall show, we ran over to Caffe Vivaldi to catch Alex performing his own show!

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The last time we saw Alex he played mostly solo (Adam Levy joined him for a song or two). This time, Alex was supported by some of the best musicians in NYC, though he did perform at least one song solo.

That song was In the Creases [Update: I’ve been told by two people that I am wrong, that Ward Williams joined Alex on this song, so I’m sure I am incorrect. Apologies!], the same song he performed earlier with ambeR at Rockwood. Very cool contrast. There (as mentioned in this post) he sang while ambeR played the guitar. Here, he played and sang by himself, creating a completely different feel to the song.

Alex has a wide selection of songs to choose from, his own repertoire, songs he wrote as part of The Animators, songs he co-wrote with ambeR and The Paper Raincoat songs.

Joining Alex in various combinations were:

Melissa Tong on violin. Always a delight, as a person and as a musician.

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Ward Williams on cello. Ward’s performances are always top-notch, and last night was no exception. In fact, he accompanied Alex alone on one song and played lead on the cello replacing ambeR’s missing vocals from a Paper Raincoat song. Extremely well done.

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Kevin Rice on a snare drum (Caffe Vivaldi is too small for a full drum set, at least with last night’s setup). Kevin always does a great job, even though he was constrained last night.

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Martin Rivas sat in on one number, playing acoustic guitar and singing harmony. His guitar play was outstanding, as was his voice. It reminded me that I hadn’t gotten around to snagging his new EP, so I asked Lois to buy it from him after the show. Can’t wait to catch a full Martin set asap.

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Candace Chien played the grand piano accompanying Alex on his last number (Help is on the Way). Sorry, I can’t find a good individual link for Candace. Candace is a classical pianist and this was her first non-classical public performance. She nailed it and we hope to see and hear more of her in the future. Everyone at the Caffe sang along with Alex on the repeating chorus (just like we did when he closed the Haiti benefit with this number).

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Even though we stayed up way past our bedtime, it was a ton of fun to see all of these wonderful people/performers do such an intimate show.

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We’ve never been to Caffe Vivaldi before (it’s in the West Village) and it won’t be our last time. To make sure I’d want to come back, I forced myself to have a piece of Carrot Cake and a Latte. The things I do for the love of music… 😉

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.

Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel at Mercury Lounge

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Lois and I go out of our way to avoid concerts where we have to stand throughout the show. That cuts out a number of top venues in NYC where that’s the norm.

For most rules, there are some exceptions. Last night, knowing we would be standing, we still couldn’t imagine skipping The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel. We would have gone to see either separately, but together, it was a lineup that was a crime to miss.

In fact, here’s my friend’s Facebook update about last night’s show:

HOLY CRAP!! Okay, seriously if you live in NYC and you did not come out to the Mercury Lounge to hear Ian Axel and The Paper Raincoat tonight you should be ashamed of yourself. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G show!

The only thing that would have added icing to the most delicious (birthday) cake would have been adding Vienna Teng to the lineup. While that magic didn’t happen, she was in the audience, so we were at least graced with her presence. 🙂

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Both The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel had all-star musicians supporting them. I’ll give each of them a shout-out toward the end.

Aside from the always spectacular performances that these artists deliver, last night had an extra-special surprise in store for us. Lois has a birthday this week, and The Paper Raincoat worked up a rendition of Happy Birthday which the jam-packed crowd sang along to.

They were singing the wonderful It All Depends, and toward the end, stopped singing, but continued the beat. Alex Wong announced that their friend Lois was in the crowd, and that it was her birthday, and would everyone please sing Happy Birthday to her. That was cool enough, but he got everyone in the audience to clap a rapid beat (to match the song), and ambeR Rubarth handed Lois a tambourine to play along.

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This was super meaningful to both of us, because it’s only a tad over a year ago, April 17th, 2009, that we first discovered The Paper Raincoat, and that night, Lois also played the tambourine during It All Depends at Canal Room!

They end the song with three people drumming fantastically on the same drum set at the same time (Alex, ambeR and Greg Ritchie). It’s incredible. But this time, because Alex got the crowd clapping in high-speed rhythm, everyone was essentially drumming together at the same time. What a crescendo!

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Speaking of clapping, there was another magical moment early in their set. They opened with Brooklyn Blurs, and then played Sympathetic Vibrations. Before announcing Sympathetic Vibrations or playing a single note, Alex merely said:

For those of you who already know your part, join me now

Nearly everyone in the crowd (probably close to 200 people) didn’t need any other clue. We all started clapping a pretty intricate beat to Sympathetic Vibrations. Too cool to describe, seriously. Having 200 people stop on cue as well is something to behold.

For the tiniest taste of the show (you can’t capture the feeling in a YouTube video), here they are performing the above-mention song, clapping and all, Sympathetic Vibrations at Mercury Lounge, last night.

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Mercury Lounge has a capacity of 250 people. It had to be close to full. The crowd was insane for Ian Axel and just as loud (between songs) and interactive for The Paper Raincoat. Standing wasn’t bad, because it’s impossible not to move with the music, so you’re really not stationary (not that we’ll start searching out shows to stand for).

Early in Ian’s set, he played a particularly energetic song, sung with his usual passion. He was probably close to collapsing in a pool of sweat at the end of the number. Someone in the crowd yelled out “Play in again!”. Lois immediately added “This time, with feeling!”, which evoked a huge laugh both from the audience, and from Ian himself. 🙂

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Joining Ian on stage for two numbers was Chad Vaccarino. For the first number, they were also joined by Mike Campbell (I can’t find a good link for him). They played Shorty Don’t Wait. It was awesome. Here’s a YouTube video of them performing it from last night’s show.

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Immediately following that, Ian did his signature song (which is the title cut of his new CD), This Is The New Year. Chad is featured on that as well. Seriously, check out the “official” video of that song as well. If an Ian set was comprised of simply playing that song 10 times in a row, I bet no one would leave disappointed! 🙂

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During The Paper Raincoat set, they announced that Paste Magazine (one of the premiere music industry publications) will be featuring them for the next month or so. I think the magazine will be giving away a free song each week, and a bonus free song from artists that The Paper Raincoat will pick to match their own free song. Awesome for those of you who haven’t yet bought their amazing CD!

The Paper Raincoat et. al. taking a bow at the end of their show:

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On to the shout-outs for all the amazing musicians who were on stage. Starting with the people supporting The Paper Raincoat:

David Fallo on viola was superb!

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Melissa Tong on violin was her typical excellent self!

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Greg Ritchie on drums. As I pointed out in a recent blog covering The Paper Raincoat in Norfolk, VA, the drums are an integral part of The Paper Raincoat sound. They did an amazing job in Norfolk without a drummer, but the sound was distinctly different.

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Filling the shoes of Kevin Rice and Adam Christgau, the two drummers who between them play at nearly every show is no small task. Greg did an excellent job. I judge that by how many times I can’t help but look away from the singing (and other instruments) and I’m forced to zone in on some top-notch drumming. That happened often enough last night. 🙂

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony is always wonderful. Typically, Tony plays the upright bass and occasionally switches to the electric. Last night’s show was purely electric (both the instrument, and Tony’s play!).

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On to Ian’s band:

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar. As masterful as he always is, but I’m still dying to see him wail on the bass (where I’m told by people I trust that Chris will blow my mind!). We also finally got to meet Chris last night after seeing him play quite a number of times. He’s incredibly nice (no surprise for this group of musicians!).

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Adam Christgau on drums. Man, it’s been a little too long since we’ve had the pleasure. We got hooked on seeing Adam often over the past year, and he’s captivated me each time. Adam was a trooper because directly from last night’s set with Ian, he ran to Joe’s Pub to play the 9:30 show with Julian Velard.

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Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris is perfectly matched with Ian, both musically and passionately. We love his play and his style every time we see him.

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We were at the head of the line to get in when the doors opened (no surprise). That had the added benefit of us being at the door when the musicians were coming and going after sound check. Here are some pictures right outside the club, before the show started, with a few shots at the bar after the show thrown in for good measure. 🙂

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IanAxelViennaTeng ambeRRubarthLois

Vienna Teng and The Paper Raincoat at Attucks

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Vienna Teng and The Paper Raincoat are up there among our favorite performers, both live and their CDs. Recently, Vienna announced that she’s taking a break from touring and returning to school this fall.

While I’m sure that The Paper Raincoat (TPR) will continue to perform (in fact, we have tickets to see them on May 6th a Mercury Lounge in NYC), both Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth have so much going on individually and with other projects that they don’t play together all that regularly.

So, having a chance to see both acts perform on the same stage on the same night was going to be hard to pass up. They played last night at The Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, VA.

We wouldn’t likely have gone from NYC, but luckily, we were a little closer, in Fredericksburg, VA. Still 2.5 hours away, but that’s a walk in the park for us.

I’ve written about Vienna and TPR many times. You can search for either on the top right of this page if you want to see how consistently amazing both are.

Last night Vienna was the headliner, so I’ll cover her performance first. Vienna performed one song solo, standing at ambeR Rubarth’s electronic keyboards. That was the first time we’ve seen her stand and play the keyboards. She also performed one song with ambeR Rubarth alone, a new song they co-wrote on a writers retreat in January. Gorgeous!

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For all of her other numbers, Vienna was accompanied by Alex Wong and Ward Williams. I can never say enough about Alex, and he was as wonderful again last night as he always is.

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We’ve seen Ward Williams briefly, twice before. Last night he was on stage for the entire TPR set, and for all but the two songs mentioned above with Vienna. He’s a delight as a musician (cello and electric guitar) and as a personality with a humorous on-stage presence.

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Reconstructing the set list from memory (a few of Vienna’s fans have asked me to do this whenever I see her):

Whatever You Want, Blue Caravan, Gravity, Kansas (solo), In Another Life, Stray Italian Greyhound, Everything’s Fine (with ambeR), Homecoming, Antebellum, Augustine, The Last Snowfall, St. Stephen’s Cross, Harbor, Grandmother Song, Keep The Customer Satisfied (Simon and Garfunkel cover)

It was a 90-minute set, capped off with Grandmother Song. For the first time in our experience, Vienna suggested that the audience might want to stand (in order to better participate) during the song. I was impressed at how fast everyone stood up. The energy was incredible.

They came out for an encore (no one sat down after Grandmother song, so it was a standing ovation) and played a wonderful version of Keep The Customer Satisfied, a Simon and Garfunkel cover.

The Paper Raincoat opened the show (which surprisingly, started 15 minutes earlier than announced). Everything about the performance last night was different (still awesome) because for the first time in our experience, TPR had no full-time drummer.

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Instead, Ward Williams joined them mostly on the cello. Alex multi-tasked more than usual (which is saying a lot!) because he did play some percussion, which he rarely does for a TPR show.

I would describe the difference as mellowing out their sound quite a bit. It was gorgeous, and the crowd loved every note, but it didn’t have the feel of a typical TPR show.

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They closed the show with the always crowd-pleasing Rewind, this time joined by Vienna Teng (where Adam Christgau or Kevin Rice typically are). The crowd went nuts and shot to their feet at the end of the song, sending TPR off the stage to a roaring standing ovation.

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This was the last show in this year’s Discovery Series at The Attucks Theatre. Most of the people in the audience were unfamiliar with either Vienna or TPR, and I would say that it was one of the better audiences we’ve been part of, and both picked up hundreds of new fans. There was brisk business at the Merch table selling CDs, and all four artists came out to meet, greet and sign the CDs.

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I already mentioned that we drove 2.5 hours to see the show. What I didn’t mention is that I caught a horrible cold a day or two earlier, and we were very close to not making the effort. Our original intention was to drive the 2.5 hours back after the show, but given my condition, our compromise was to stay in Norfolk for the night.

We got to our hotel at 3pm and I napped for a couple of hours. After saying hello/goodbye to the artists, we headed back to the hotel for the night, returning to Fredericksburg this morning. More than worth it, even though my condition hasn’t improved one iota…

Vienna Teng, Rosi Golan and Ari Hest at Rockwood Music Hall

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On Tuesday night we saw Vienna Teng perform at Parkside Lounge. I detailed the show in this post. Two points to carry over from that night: 1) Vienna tailored the set list for the audience/venue and 2) She played 100% solo. Last night showed her flexibility in mixing it up.

If you’re a fan of an artist or a venue, I highly encourage you to find as many ways to follow them on the Internet (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Buzz, etc.). You never know when a last minute show will be announced, or the artist might appear under a pseudonym, etc.

On March 19th, Vienna tweeted the following:

Gig alert: NYC, Linz Ho plays Rockwood again Wed 3/24, w/band no less. Then to SF to join Paper Raincoat @ Noe Valley Ministry, Fri 3/26!

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that it’s possible that Linz Ho was going to be Vienna herself. A little digging could easily confirm that. We knew we’d be there.

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Yesterday afternoon, when checking the Rockwood Music Hall site to see who was on before Vienna I noticed that right after her (I mean, right after Linz Ho) were Ari Hest and Rosi Golan appearing together, as a new group called The Open Sea. A couple of hours later, Rosi tweeted the same thing, so I had two chances to discover their last-minute engagement.

Vienna was back on a grand piano last night. Her set list was excellent. Constructed from memory, so excuse any lapses:

The Drugs Don’t Work (a cover of The Verve), Blue Caravan, I Don’t Feel So Well, The Last Snowfall (with Ari Hest), accompanying Ari Hest on one of his songs, [Update: I knew I missed at least one, she played a new song co-written with ambeR Rubarth called Everything’s Fine], 1 Br / 1 Ba, Augustine, City Hall

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Vienna closed the show with City Hall, which was the first time in the nine times we’ve seen her perform that she didn’t close with Grandmother Song. City Hall was an excellent choice, and she continues to keep us on our toes. 🙂

The song that Ari sang during her set was a song he debuted during a Vienna set in January that I covered in this post. He didn’t write the lyrics on his hand this time, and therefore didn’t need to use a candle to see them (a shame, because that was a very cool visual effect!).

Here they are singing The Last Snowfall together:

ViennaTengAriHest

Vienna apologized for not having prepared enough in January to accompany him that night (to her standards, as none of us noticed anything other than excellent piano playing on her part). She was determined to rectify that, and she did. Her piano was incredible on this song, and I encourage Ari to get her to record with him whenever he gets this track into the studio.

Even though she performed under a pseudonym, Rockwood was packed. In contrast with the act on before her (which I’ll cover briefly at the end of this post), people were hanging on her every word/sound, meaning, it was a quiet and respectful crowd.

The band referred to above turned out to be:

Melissa Tong on violin (and even harmony on one number, which was a huge and pleasant surprise!). Melissa is always top-notch and last night was no exception.

MelissaTong MelissaTongSinging

Doug Yowell on drums. I think this was the first time that Doug has played with Vienna. [Update: Vienna’s manager informed me that Doug has played with her before, and is in fact on the live DVD which we own, but haven’t watched yet. Thanks Amy!] He was excellent throughout the set, and did a very nice job on the potentially difficult Augustine, which has a lot of drama (should that be drumma?) 😉 in it.

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In the middle of one her songs, Vienna forced Doug to take a dual solo. While continuing to play the drums alone, she made him do his rendition of John Wayne’s drunken commencement speech. When he hit the punch lines, the crowd was hysterical. It took a while to compose ourselves, even when Vienna was singing again. Well done! 🙂

We’ve only gotten to see Rosi Golan and Ari Hest perform briefly. In addition to Ari’s song with Vienna in January, both he and Rosi performed at the Haiti Benefit which I covered in this post. Both had a full band, and it was a pretty crazy night with so many performers rotating throughout the show.

At the Haiti Benefit, Rosi won the raffle for a high-end Martin guitar, signed by all of the performers (including Rosi, Ari and Vienna!). She debuted it in public last night, and here’s Ari making a surgical adjustment to it before it was formally introduced to live play:

AriHestRosiGolanGuitarSurgery

Last night was a perfect setting to see each (and both) perform to their true abilities. We were sitting two feet from them (literally). They are each headlining performers (solo and with full bands) in their own right. They also have a side project together, called The Open Sea. This show highlighted The Open Sea, but each did a few of their own numbers as well, with Ari doing one solo.

AriHestRosiGolan

Both Rosi and Ari have exceptional voices. I can’t describe how well they go together, you’ll simply have to make it to a show to be placed under their spell. I already told you how quiet the crowd was for Vienna, the same was true for Ari and Rosi, because the thought of missing a single note was inconceivable.

They performed four numbers that they co-wrote for The Open Sea. They played at least another four of their individual songs (photo of the napkin set list appears below). Ari finger-picked the guitar on all but one song, and this is the first time I got a chance to notice and appreciate what a wonderful guitar player he is.

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Rosi complained that she had SXSW Voice, a condition caused by having to give so many interviews and performances in a short time, often yelling over tons of incredibly loud music. While it may have felt awful inside of her, it sounded as sweet as could be externally. Rosi will be headlining The Highline Ballroom on April 22nd, and I encourage you to run (not walk) to get tickets and make it to that show!

RosiGolan

In the fall, Alex Berger told me that I needed to buy Rosi’s CD The Drifter and the Gypsy. I dawdled longer than I should have, but bought it a few months ago. Wow! The entire CD is fantastic. The opening song, Think of Me, grabs me every time I listen to it. It was just featured in the new movie Dear John. Excellent choice on the part of the producers of the film!

Think of Me is available for you to listen to on Rosi’s MySpace page (linked above). Do yourself a favor and check out my claim. 🙂

Ari Hest just finished recording and mixing a new CD. It was produced by the extraordinary Alex Wong. Given how much I love The Paper Raincoat, Alex Berger’s Snow Globe and Vienna Teng and Alex Wong’s Inland Territory CDs (all produced by Alex Wong!), I can’t wait to get my hands on Ari’s CD when it finally lands.

AriHest

The Open Sea is working on a new EP. I can’t wait for that either. Why are you folks eating and sleeping, when I have a need to listen to your new music over and over?!? 😉

To repeat my point from the introduction to this post, if I didn’t follow Vienna on Twitter, I would be reading someone else’s account of last night’s show, rather than sharing these extraordinary memories with the rest of you, having experienced them first hand!

Rockwood is a fantastic place to see live music. Unfortunately, it’s small and has very few seats. We would stand for Vienna, Rosi and Ari, but we much prefer to sit (much). So, I looked up the act that was on before Vienna, and we decided to catch that set as well, in the hopes of snagging a seat we could hang on to throughout the night.

Bryan Dunn played with a full band, singing lead vocals and playing both acoustic and electric guitar. Most songs were a driving rock style with Bryan singing his heart out. He played rhythm on his acoustic (mostly) but took some nice leads on his electric. He has a great personality on stage and comes across like a very nice guy.

BryanDunn

Jim McNamara played an upright bass. He blew me away. I can’t say that I recall an upright bass being used by a mostly rock ‘n roll band, but Jim made it work perfectly. A few times he played leads in harmony with Bryan’s guitar. Some of those licks were pretty darn fast, and he nailed every one of them!

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Craig Greenberg played the piano and sang some harmony vocals. Craig did a solid job on both, and Bryan gave him a few leads to stretch himself on the piano.

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Chris Benelli played the drums. This was the first time that Chris played with Bryan Dunn, and he did a very nice job.

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Here’s a shot of their set list:

BryanDunnSetList

We enjoyed their music, though it was a bit loud given how close we were to the stage. The only surprise (mentioned to contrast the quiet we experienced for Vienna, Rosi and Ari) is that people took the opportunity to talk to each other too much for our taste during Bryan’s set.

To make matter worse, because the music was so loud (which is what I think makes people feel that it’s OK to talk, heck, no one will hear them, right?), they had to scream at each other, which of course, then makes it easy to hear them.

Amazingly, a number of the worst offenders were personal friends of Bryan, who obviously came out to support him. He closed the show with a cool song where the audience sings and he responds. Two tables filled with his friends (one included his wife) did a fantastic job of singing and making the song a ton of fun. One of those tables was filled with people who talked throughout the rest of his set.

Oh well…

Another fantastic night out! 🙂

Vienna Teng, Alex Wong and Glen Phillips at Workplay

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This post is a day late because we didn’t complete the trifecta and follow Vienna Teng and Alex Wong to Louisiana. Instead, we kept our word and drove home from Birmingham, AL, a trip that took a day and a half of driving.

On Thursday, we drove from Atlanta to Birmingham to catch Vienna and Alex (along with Glen Phillips) for the second night in a row, this time at Workplay. In addition to not wanting to miss another opportunity to see Vienna and Alex, we really wanted to introduce David and Rebecca to their music, and David told me that Workplay was a great venue. He was right, Workplay is highly recommended!

I don’t know whether the artists that we surprise in strange places like being surprised (or care either way). All I know is that we amuse ourselves and get a kick out of showing up in unexpected places to see our favorite performers. For a second night in a row, our surprise was sprung earlier than expected. While we were sitting in the bar area waiting for the doors to open, Alex Wong wandered out to get something, and we were busted. 🙂

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Workplay is a much smaller venue than Variety Playhouse (at least on the Theater side, which is where this show was held). This alone would have made the experience different from the night before. Of course, road warrior artists find other ways to keep each night fresh.

There were a few substitutions from the previous night’s set list. Even for songs that were repeated (thankfully, because we promise not to tire of hearing them if Vienna promises to keep performing them!), different ones were introduced with stories than from the night before, and in one case, a totally different story was told (consistent with the night before).

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Vienna and Alex were a little more chatty (and funny) early on as well, which is always welcome. Glen joined them for one number, playing guitar but not singing. He didn’t join them in Atlanta.

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They played for 70 minutes with no encore. This was a few minutes longer than the night before, including the encore. They created a new set of fans, including David and Rebecca. The guy who sat in front of me became a fan as well (he was there to see Glen). He bought Inland Territory after the show and Vienna and Alex signed it for him. 🙂

Lois asked me to include the following thoughts from her (consider it a guest blog):

Vienna Teng is the epitome of grace and generosity. She’s a brilliant songwriter who paints the human condition via her great and diverse musical creations. Being in her presence is humbling and inspiring.

Her voice is pure and strong. Her lyrics capture deep emotions, often making you joyful and even toe-tapping to her strong rhythms and playful themes.

You’d imagine there were triplets on that stage as she effortlessly gives us her takes on life with classical – folk – jazz – country (and more) overtones in her songs. It’s extraordinary to hear her go from ‘Augustine’ to ‘Stray Italian Greyhound’ to ‘Grandmother’s Song’ and realize it’s the same Vienna writing and performing vastly different numbers.

She’s a hero to many – and it’s clear to Hadar and I why this is so: She is to us as well. We’ll continue crisscrossing the country to keep up with her. 🙂

We saw her twice on our recent journey south with the also-incomparable Alex Wong. Individually they amaze. Together they create sheer musical bliss for their audiences! We are grateful they do what they do – and that they share their magic with the rest of us!

Glen Phillips also mixed up his set a bit and changed his banter as well. He told a few stories he hadn’t the night before. He continues to impress me as a solo performer, and the audience once again was way more familiar with his songs than we are/were (though we’re starting to catch up).

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In Atlanta, Vienna joined Glen for one song and then again for his encore. In Birmingham, Vienna joined Glen for three consecutive songs during his set, and Glen performed his encore solo.

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We had a fantastic time and hung around to say hi after the show even though we were exhausted.

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Here is the set list reconstructed from memory (now two days late), and not presented in order (other than the opening and closing numbers). I am sure that I left out a few songs, and I apologize for that. I guess I was too busy enjoying the show to note each number:

  • Whatever You Want
  • Gravity
  • The Tower
  • Harbor
  • Stray Italian Greyhound
  • In the Creases (Alex sang lead and played the guitar beautifully. He also dedicated the song to two audience members who traveled far to see them. I assume he meant us!) 🙂
  • 1 Br / 1 Ba (1 Bedroom / 1 Bath)
  • The Last Snowfall (Vienna had trouble with the buttons on the looping machine, and she started the song three times. I love that she’s a pro, and didn’t just muddle through it, wanting to give the crowd the best experience. She did! Bravo!)
  • Augustine
  • No Gringo
  • Antebellum
  • Grandmother Song

Just to repeat, I’m sure about the above, but I likely dropped a few inadvertently.

We’re so happy to be home it’s hard to describe. That said, there’s no way that coming home two days earlier and missing these two shows would have been worth it. If only we were going on the Cayamo Cruise starting tomorrow, we could try and get our fill of Vienna and Alex (unsuccessfully, of course!)… 🙂

Vienna Teng, Alex Wong and Glen Phillips at Variety Playhouse

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We are huge fans of Vienna Teng and Alex Wong. I’ve written about them together and separately many times. You can read the original one about the two of them together here.

We were in Florida visiting my folks for the past few days and heading back to NY yesterday. When planning the trip, we noticed that Vienna and Alex were a week behind us (we were in Birmingham before FL, and got there by driving through Atlanta, and they were playing those two cities on consecutive nights).

In making our plans, we decided to surprise them, and give ourselves a huge gift in the process, and make a wide detour in returning to NY, going through Atlanta instead of up I95. If you read the post linked to above, then you’ll realize that this behavior is consistent with my announcement that we are officially stalking Vienna (we were already stalking Alex Wong and The Paper Raincoat!). 🙂

The surprise didn’t last long, as Alex spotted us from the lobby while we were waiting outside for the doors to open. He took a photo of us through the box office window.

We had never been to Variety Playhouse before. While it’s an old place, that could stand some refurbishing, it’s a fantastic place to see a show (meaning, while the look could be refreshed, everything else is top-notch!). The sound system was excellent and everyone who works there was as nice as you could hope for. It’s a huge place as well. Kudos to Vienna, Alex and Glen for filling as many seats as they did on a frigid Wednesday.

In addition to being a large crowd, it was one of the best audiences we’ve been part of as well, which is quite unusual in a place this big. Pin-drop quiet during the songs, crazy loud and long applause between songs. Singing when we’re instructed to, laughing when appropriate, etc. Glen Phillips has a very large following (more on him later), and I believe that a lot of his fans are now squarely Vienna and Alex fans too, and vice versa.

Vienna and Alex played a mesmerizing one-hour set (they came out at 8:20pm). After singing Homecoming (one of the many songs we constantly sing out loud in our car) Vienna gave us a shout-out, mentioning that she was disoriented seeing us, and thinking she wasn’t where she thought she was. 🙂

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She performed many of our favorites, including The Last Snowfall, Antebellum, Harbor, Whatever You Want, Grandmother Song, etc. (I could tell you every song, because we also snagged the hand-written set list, on a napkin, but that’s beside the point).

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Like I mentioned above, I’m sure that a fair number of people were there for Glen Phillips, but I can assure you, that the roar was deafening for Vienna and Alex after each song, so people weren’t killing time waiting for the main act to come out.

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It’s unusual for an opening act (how can one consider Vienna and Alex to be an opening act?) to get an encore. But, the clapping didn’t slow down even after they were off stage for a full minute, so they came back out and did a one-song encore, a Radiohead cover.

It was well worth our detour to get to see them perform at this wonderful venue.

After a 20-minute intermission, Glen Phillips came out. We’ve seen Glen only once before, at City Winery, as part of WPA (Works Progress Administration), in a show that we went to see because Vienna and Alex were on the same bill that night as well. Here is my post about that show.

After that show, when I mentioned to a number of friends of mine that we saw Glen Phillips, I was surprised that every single one of them knew who he was. We obviously were living under a rock while he was making headlines. Ironically, we know the other two members of WPA very well.

Last night was Glen solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. As I mentioned in the previous post, he has a great voice (even more obvious when he’s alone on stage) and his guitar playing is tasty, making him a compelling solo performer.

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Since I don’t know his music, I can’t be sure how many of the songs were his, or were covers. Clearly, they are well known either way (just not to me), because people were clapping the second they heard three notes of lead-in guitar, on most songs. Giving him credit for most of them, the lyrics are often complex and interesting.

He too played for an hour, inviting Vienna to play a duet with him on one number. When he was roused back on stage for an encore, he came back out with Vienna and they closed the show together.

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We hung around afterward to say hello to all three (it was our first time meeting Glen). We also purchased Vienna’s DVD (one of the only items of hers we didn’t own), as well as another copy of Inland Territory (a stunning CD) and two copies of The Paper Raincoat CD to give as gifts.

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The three of them are playing in Birmingham, AL tonight at Workplay. If you’re in the neighborhood, and you don’t go to see them, shame on you!

Update: At the request of a commenter in another post about Vienna and Alex, I am posting the Set List for this show:

  1. Whatever You Want
  2. Gravity
  3. Antebellum
  4. No Gringo
  5. Homecoming
  6. In the Creases (listed but not played!)
  7. The Last Snowfall
  8. The Tower
  9. Stray Italian Greyhound
  10. Augustine
  11. I Don’t Feel So Well (I really don’t recall this being played…)
  12. Harbor
  13. Grandmother Song
  14. Idioteque (Radiohead cover from Kid A, played as an encore)

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).

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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.)

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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!