Alex Wong

Vienna Teng at Rockwood Music Hall

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We’ve been up later than normal this past week, including one 2am night. It was all great, but at our age, it takes its toll. 😉 We were looking forward to vegging this weekend so we headed to the house on Thursday evening with the intention of not emerging from our cocoon for as much as a week.

The best laid plans…

I follow many musicians on Twitter. Early yesterday afternoon Vienna Teng (@viennateng) tweeted that the act scheduled for 7pm at Rockwood Music Hall had to cancel, and they asked her to fill in on short notice. Lois was out for a few hours with a friend so I had to wait until 4pm to see whether she was up to it. She was.

We left at 5:20pm which should have had us at Rockwood by 6:10. We experienced the worst NYC traffic in a few years and got there at 6:55pm. We made it and got seats before Vienna took the stage. Whew.

I’ve written really long posts about Vienna twice before, here and here, and I encourage those of you who are unfamiliar with this brilliant woman to read them.

Aside from a few surprise special guests who joined Vienna, last night was more pure Vienna, on the most intimate stage we’ve seen her, with a grand piano but no Alex Wong with his incredible percussion and myriad other instruments.

Vienna’s voice is extraordinary and her piano playing is mesmerizing. Put it together with her brilliant songwriting and she really needs nothing and no one else on stage to captivate the audience.

ViennaTengPiano

Of course, if you’ve seen her, or if you’ve read either of my previous posts, you know that she’s also a master of effectively using electronics (looping and synthesizing) live on stage, which she did wonderfully last night, to create the sound of five people.

In addition to being an amazing performer, she is also the epitome of grace. During one of her songs, someone’s cell phone went off. The woman let it ring in her bag until it went to voicemail (in other words, a long time). Then it rang again (during the same song).

This time, the woman retrieved it and walked to the door to answer it. Vienna joked (mid-song) that it wouldn’t have been so bad if the ringtone was in the right key! When she finished the song, she played the exact ringtone on her piano (in the correct key, of course), as a finishing flourish. A very nice, funny and classy touch.

There’s a reason most places still find it necessary to remind people to silence their devices…

Vienna asked for requests and Lois was first to answer with Homecoming (which Vienna didn’t play at City Winery). Vienna played it perfectly. Thanks! 🙂

One of the people we’ve been wanting to see live was Ari Hest. He joined Vienna for two songs last night. The first was a song that must be pretty new (I think it’s Ari’s song), because he wrote the lyrics on his hand so he wouldn’t forget them.

AriHest AriHestViennaTeng

What was visually cool was that he brought up one of the table candles on stage to illuminate his hand to read the lyrics. He held the candle the entire song, and the effect was wonderful. So was the song, by the way. Ari has a really good voice, and we look forward to catching one of his shows ASAP.

AriHestCandle3 AriHestCandle1 AriHestCandle2

Ari also joined Vienna at the piano where he harmonized (looping and all) on The Last Snowfall (a song we simply can’t get enough of).

ViennaTengAriHestPiano

Vienna then invited Paul Freeman to the stage. She sang Antebellum (another amazing and very powerful song with stunning piano accompaniment), and Paul sang the Alex Wong part (Alex co-wrote the song with Vienna). Paul has an excellent voice, and he did a very nice job.

PaulFreeman PaulFreemanSinging

Vienna then invited up another of our favorite musicians/people, Alex Berger. In a surprise move, she relinquished the piano and turned it over to Alex. Vienna took center stage to sing. Last Monday we attended Alex Berger’s show at The Living Room as did Vienna. Alex sang an old Jazz favorite, and it inspired Vienna to want to break one out as well.

AlexBergerPiano

She chose A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (fitting, since Alex is a Brit). She had just pressed it into duty so it wasn’t a shock that she lost the lyrics for a second 2/3’s of the way into the song. That gave Alex the opportunity to sing a bit as well (always welcome!), to get her back on track.

AlexBergerViennaTeng

Vienna finished up the show with her rousing Grandmother Song. Awesome (as always).

We returned to the house immediately after the show. Was it worth driving 145 minutes (round trip) for a 45-minute set? Are you kidding? Did you really have to ask? YES, it was more than worth it. 🙂

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at City Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A brief recap of their respective strengths:

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

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

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

ViennaTengPiano

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

ViennaTeng1

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

AlexWongWaterphone AlexWongDrums AlexWongGlockenspielDrums AlexWongGuitar

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

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

AlexWong1

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

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

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

ViennaTengAlexWong

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

ViennaTengMelodica

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

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

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

ViennaTengGrandmotherSong

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

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

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

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

GlenPhillips

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

LukeBulla

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

SeanWatkins

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

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

SebastianSteinberg JerryRoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

JeffDaniels1

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

JeffDaniels2

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

JeffDanielsLois

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

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

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

GrantLeePhillipsSettingUp GrantLeePhillips

JamieEdwards

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

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

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

CityWineryOutside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at Joe’s Pub

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We got the briefest taste of Vienna Teng a few months ago when she was a guest performer at ambeR Rubarth’s CD Release Party, also at Joe’s Pub. The minute Vienna announced last night’s show we grabbed tickets (more on that later).

Alex Wong is well-known to us and I’ve written about him a number of times already (most often for his work in The Paper Raincoat).

Since this will likely get long (Hadar, do you ever write anything short and sweet?), I’ll spare those of you with little patience and give you the bottom line:

Vienna Teng is now officially on our stalkerazi list!

English translation: we will be following her around and trying to attend as many shows as possible. We’ll also be buying the rest of her CDs (we only own the most recent one, Inland Territory, which is awesome!).

Vienna is an all-around talent that can mesmerize on any individual level. Her piano playing is among the best we’ve seen live. If that’s all she did, we would still go see her often.

ViennaTengPiano

Her voice? Extraordinary! Clarity, range, power, emotional conveyance, variety, the works! If she sang a capella all night, we would still go see her often.

ViennaTengSinging

Songwriting? Exceptional! Deep, thoughtful lyrics. Wide range of topics. If she wasn’t a great musician, and didn’t sing so beautifully, we would still go to see her often for the quality of her songwriting.

Stage Presence? Wonderful! Vienna is warm and engaging, and comes across as natural as you could want from a performer. Her banter with Alex is excellent as well. She’s a natural story-teller. If all she did was tell stories, we would still go to see her often.

She’s working hard to master the guitar. I have little doubt that when she feels ready to perform in public, we’ll feel as graced as we do by her piano playing.

She’s beautiful too (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). 😉

Alex Wong is master of all music. He does a bit of everything as part of The Paper Raincoat (guitar, percussion, glockenspiel, keyboards, vocals, songwriting), so it would have been hard for him to surprise us last night.

AlexWongWaterphone

When he plays with Vienna, he’s mostly a percussionist/drummer (superb), though he did play the guitar on at least two numbers. Of course, he sings beautiful harmonies with Vienna, but he takes more of a back seat than he does with ambeR and The Paper Raincoat.

AlexWongGuitar

Ward Williams joined them for three songs, playing both cello and electric guitar (singing on one of those numbers).

Kevin Rice joined during the encore to play a snare drum, making for two drummers on the one song. It was a great sound. After the show, Alex told me that Kevin was the original drummer with The Paper Raincoat.

While there were never more than three people on the stage at the same time, they create a much larger sound. Both Vienna and Alex, independently, use loop machines to do that.

In the very first song, after Vienna sang one verse, she looped her voice back and sang stunning harmony with herself! Alex did similar things with the drums, laying down an intricate beat, then looping it and playing/dancing in and around that beat. Vienna also did that with the piano on occasion, altering it to a more electronica type sound, then accompanying that with a normal piano sound which she played live. Excellent, all around.

Last night was one of four shows that will be used to create a new Live CD. We can’t wait to buy it. 🙂

ViennaTengAlexWong

That’s the end of what I have to say about the show, but nowhere near the end of what I have to say about the evening. So, take another sip of coffee, take a deep breath, and settle in for the more personal aspects that made for a special evening last night. 🙂

I’ve written a couple of times about our serendipitous discovery of The Paper Raincoat (originally covered here). That started a chain of events which has caused us to discover a number of amazing NY-based musicians, a few of whom have become friends in addition to people we enjoy seeing perform.

We can now safely add Vienna as one such musician/performer, and hopefully, after stalking her a bit more, a friend too. 😉

The glue in this new chain is a superb singer/songwriter/keyboard player in his own right, Alex Berger. I connected with him when he put up a video of ambeR, Alex Wong and Vienna performing In the Creases at Joe’s Pub (that first time we saw Vienna). I started following Alex on Twitter (@bergeralex) and the rest is history.

AlexBerger

Through Alex, we discovered a dozen artists that we really like. One of them is the incredibly talented Amy Rivard. We invited Amy, along with two other friends (both of whom are Broadway musicians) to join us for the show last night, and the five of us had a wonderful time (and a wonderful meal) together.

WaitingForViennaTeng

Amy was kind enough to agree to sing on my Tonight Show Tribute song/video collaboration with another amazing keyboardist, Ben Schwartz. Here’s a link to the YouTube Video.

AmyRivardAlexBerger

Alex Berger was at the show last night as well, and we were really happy to catch up with him afterward. Run and pre-order his upcoming CD (we are honored to have been the first people to pre-order). The brilliant Alex Wong produced Alex Berger’s CD!

Looping back to my comment about buying tickets for this show, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs talking about the difficulty and opportunities in the music business, using last night’s show as the spark and one specific example.

The best part of the current situation in the music world is that anyone (literally) can get heard. You can make reasonable quality recordings pretty cheaply and even get your music distributed for free. For more money (and time), but still much less than in the past, you can produce stunning quality recordings.

The worst part of the current situation is that while you can get your stuff out there, how do you build an audience to listen to it, let alone even find it. The signal-to-noise ratio is very low.

Obviously, not all (or even most) of the people who would like to make a living as musicians deserve to. But, the number who deserve to is still staggeringly large compared to the number who actually achieve that.

If you have major talent, the only reliable way to grind out a living (and it’s a huge grind, no matter how much you enjoy performing) is to tour a ton. It’s important to be creative, both to build a loyal following and to maximize their financial support toward your livelihood.

This is another area where The Paper Raincoat (and ambeR individually) and Vienna Teng have impressed us (and therefore have gotten our additional financial support).

In the case of ambeR’s new CD and The Paper Raincoat’s new CD (both superb efforts!), they offered multiple levels of pre-ordering, with each level delivering something additional and special to thank you for your patronage. It wasn’t just stuff (which would have been good enough), but generally had a creative flair, a personal touch, or something otherwise special as well.

I’ve posted photos in a previous entry, but in ambeR’s case, she hand-made boxes to house the pre-ordered CDs. The Paper Raincoat (at the highest level), included T-Shirts, Posters and a 4GB USB bracelet. The USB device had 330MB of goodies on it. Videos from a live show, a video thank you and a video of a practical joke.

CreativeMarketing

More amazingly (to me) was their inclusion of all of the songs on the CD as instrumentals. For those of us who love to sing along to their songs, we can do so without being distracted by them! Can you say Karaoke Party? 😉

Both Paper Raincoat and ambeR sent download links to the full CD the minute it was available, to anyone who pre-ordered. That put their music in the fans hands long before the physical CD packaging was done and available. Again, a very classy touch!

All three (ambeR, The Paper Raincoat and Vienna Teng) have used the amazing artist Diana Ho to produce artwork (for the posters and/or CD covers).

So, what did Vienna do last night to give more value, and get rewarded for it (both in loyalty and in dollars)? She offered a VIP package for the late show (she played two sets at Joe’s Pub last night).

The VIP package included a bunch of goodies, but I think the real hook was a private dessert and coffee get-together with Vienna and Alex after the show. Only 30 VIP tickets were offered. We grabbed two the second we saw Vienna’s Tweet (another reason to follow the artists you like!). The next morning, all 30 VIP packages were sold out!

Here are their Twitter addresses:

@viennateng (obvious)

@highceilings (not as obvious, Alex Wong)

@ambeRRubarth (obvious)

@paper_raincoat (you get it by now…)

After the show, we hung around and talked to a bunch of people.

AmyCoxViennasManager JordanBurgerViennasBookingAgent

ViennaTeng AlexWong

We even got to play Roadies a bit, carrying out some equipment to their van after the schmoozing was done. But in a surprise to all involved (Lois and I included), we realized that it would be imprudent to push the night as late as we had the night before, so we ended up not joining the after-show festivities.

Did we feel cheated? Did we feel like we over-spent on the VIP package? Not even for a second! We were thrilled to have supported Vienna and Alex, and to have had the choice to go if we hadn’t been so tired.

We spent today listening to Vienna’s music. The CD we own, her website (which has a button to play Radio VT on the home page), and listening to some live shows in the Internet Archive site. We loved every second of it. 🙂

P.S. As if I needed any additional reason to want to hang out with Vienna, but she appeals to the geek in me as well. She worked as a programmer at Cisco for two years before turning to a career in music. So, I could find things to talk about with her beyond our current obsession with live music…

Paper Raincoat at Joe’s Pub

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

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

The Paper Raincoat

The Paper Raincoat

Adam Christgau

Adam Christgau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Paper Raincoat CD Package

    Paper Raincoat CD Package

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

    ambeR Rubarth Guitar

    ambeR Rubarth Guitar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paper Raincoat at Rockwood Music Hall

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

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

Paper Raincoat

Paper Raincoat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Christgau

Adam Christgau

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

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

Alex Amber One Piano

Alex Amber One Piano

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

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

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

The Famous Tambourine

The Famous Tambourine

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

Adam Amber Alex A Capella

Adam Amber Alex A Capella

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

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

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

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

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

ambeR Rubarth at Joe’s Pub

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I am being respectful, and writing ambeR Rubarth the way she capitalizes it herself, so no, I didn’t make a mistake. 🙂 She is soon to release a new CD, Good Mystery, and last night had a CD Release party show at Joe’s Pub in NYC, which we attended. You can hear some of the songs from that CD and a few from her previous work at her MySpace page.

In addition to her solo career, ambeR is also part of a duo called The Paper Raincoat. I wrote about them extensively when we accidentally discovered them opening for Colin Hay at the Canal Room. We were extremely impressed with both ambeR and Alex Wong (the other half of The Paper Raincoat).

Right after that show, I friended both of them on MySpace, as well as The Paper Raincoat. I’ve since followed both ambeR and The Paper Raincoat on Twitter: @ambeRRubarth and @Paper_Raincoat respectively. As a result, I saw a Tweet that ambeR was releasing a new solo CD. I was aware that The Paper Raincoat is also releasing a much anticipated CD, and now I know that their release party will be at Joe’s Pub, on October 6th at 9:30pm, and we bought tickets to that last night!

We pre-ordered the new CD (in a Collector’s Edition!) immediately, and bought tickets to the show. We knew there would be surprise guests, but we didn’t realize just how many.

OK, the intro has already been too long. So,  I have to skip to the bottom line first, before I lose all of you, and then I’ll add a lot more detail.

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

Read that again, especially if you know us. We attend a ton of live shows, so it’s not like we just went gaga because we finally saw someone perform in person!

To make the above statement even more amazing (to me), ambeR (and friends) were on stage for just about an hour (not a very long show by any measure), and yet, it was completely satisfying, in every regard. Of course, I would have loved another hour or two (or three, or four), but I didn’t feel let down in any way whatsoever.

On to the specifics of the show. For the most part, ambeR had three people supporting her throughout most of the show. Tony Maceli on bass, Austin Nevins on electric guitar and Billy Hawn on drums. I’ll cover them all after I gush some more about ambeR.

First and foremost, ambeR Rubarth is a superb songwriter. On any level that you want to take that statement. Her lyrics are moving, clever, authentic, wonderful. Her melodies are varied, interesting, lovely, terrific.

Her guitar playing is excellent (she could do a solo show, accompanying herself on the guitar, and we would be completely satisfied). She is an incredible pianist (again, she could perform a solo show, accompanying herself just on the piano, and we would be completely satisfied).

ambeR Rubarth Guitar

ambeR Rubarth Guitar

ambeR Rubarth Piano

ambeR Rubarth Piano

And yet, with many people on the stage at the same time, the arrangements were fantastic, complex, harmonious, subtle, effective, etc. ambeR arranged the entire show, except for the part that Threeds participated in, which they arranged. Add producing/arranging to the long list of strengths/talents that she possesses.

Finally, her voice. It’s lovely, with good range, and excellent delivery of the appropriate emotion at the appropriate time. She can be wistful, soulful, smokey, vulnerable, flirty, bluesy, jazzy, rock ‘n rolly and certainly, fully folksy. And, given her songwriting talents, she most certainly exercised all of the above during her set.

Tony Maceli was spectacular on the upright bass, playing a number of styles, including using a bow, and even slapping with the bow to achieve a sound I wasn’t used to hearing with a bass. He also played the electric bass on at least one number. He’s a star!

Austin Nevins was solid all night. I suspect he’s better than I realize, as he played more of a supporting role. He was very good, a perfect fit of what was expected of him last night, just not flashy enough for me to really get a sense of how good he is when he lets loose.

Billy Hawn was wonderful on the drums (including Djembe). He was tucked in the far right corner, diagonally opposite us, so I couldn’t see him except for a glimpse now and again, but his beat was excellent, and he never overwhelmed the mostly mellow sound throughout the show.

It doesn’t end there. ambeR promised a bunch of surprise guests and she delivered. I already mentioned Alex Wong, who joined on the first song, and then on a few more toward the end, including the encore.

Amber Rubarth and Alex Wong

Amber Rubarth and Alex Wong

Opening the show was a trio called Threeds. I’ll come back to them later. For now, I want to mention that all three of them came back on stage to play with ambeR during her second number, and they were great (as was the song, and the arrangement that included Threeds!). For two other numbers, Katie Scheele of Threeds joined alone. They/she added a wonderful dimension to ambeR’s set.

Paul Brill joined to sing harmony on one number. Very nice.

Austin Nevins - Amber Rubarth - Paul Brill - Tony Maceli

Austin Nevins - Amber Rubarth - Paul Brill - Tony Maceli

Vienna Teng joined for a stunningly beautiful version of In the Creases. Alex Wong, who co-wrote the song with ambeR before they formed The Paper Raincoat, joined as well. The three took turns singing lead (Alex kicked it off), and all three harmonized together. Vienna played the piano (her specialty).

Vienna Teng

Vienna Teng

Ironically, the night before, Vienna Teng was the headliner at the Highline Ballroom. We’ve never seen her live. I discovered her through The Paper Raincoat, and really wanted to see her perform. I tried to rearrange our schedule to make it there on Thursday, but couldn’t pull off the minor miracle. I was so happy to get to see and hear her (however briefly) last night, as I now know I need to go out of my way to ensure I see one of her full shows!

Rosi Golan joined to sing with ambeR on two numbers (including the encore). I admit that I simply couldn’t hear her differentiated from the rest of the sounds (she only sang harmony, never lead), so I don’t have an opinion. Sorry!

Adam Levy (pronounced Levee) closed the show with ambeR, just the two of them, performing a song they co-wrote. Lovely. Adam is a good guitarist, and has a very good voice as well. He also returned to sing during the encore.

Amber Rubarth and Adam Levy

Amber Rubarth and Adam Levy

Chel O’Reilly joined for the encore, to sing along with the all-star cast. I couldn’t make out her voice individually either, so nothing really to report. Sorry.

Austin Nevins - Chel O'Reilly - Adam levy - Rosi Golan - Tony Maceli - Alex Wong

Austin Nevins - Chel O'Reilly - Adam levy - Rosi Golan - Tony Maceli - Alex Wong

Simply a stunning show, all around. Kudos to everyone involved, in particular, the extremely talented ambeR Rubarth!

Threeds opened the show, and played a varied 20-minute set. Threeds is three oboists, Kathy Halvorson, Mark Snyder and Katie Scheele. In addition to the oboe, Katie also played the English Horn. I was impressed by the breadth of styles they covered in such a short set, all extremely well done. They are very tight together, and their music delighted the crowd.

Threeds

Threeds

It was an incredible treat to have them come back on stage with ambeR and have them add such richness to the otherwise rich sound that ambeR and her crew and guests produced!

Thank you all for an evening we will never forget!

In addition to the performers all putting on such a great show, last night was one of the best audiences we’ve been part of. Bravo to all of you as well! 🙂