Amy Rivard

Amy Rivard at Rockwood Music Hall

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Amy Rivard headlined Rockwood Music Hall yesterday. For us, this marked a big shift in her career (perhaps not so from her perspective).

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I’ll describe the show in a bit, but I want to step back and explain what I mean above, mostly for myself. If you already know about Amy’s previous careers/accomplishments, skip ahead.

We first saw Amy perform on 9/21/2009 at a Livestrong Benefit. She rushed over from Madison Square Garden where she sang the National Anthem at the Rangers game (not the first time she sang at MSG!). I spent four paragraphs gushing about Amy in that post (about 40% of the way down). Here’s the first one, so you don’t have to wade through the original:

Amy Rivard sang, accompanied by Alex Berger on the keyboards. Before I begin, let me take a deep breath, and say Oh My God! Seriously, Amy has such an extraordinary voice. Alex was worried that Amy might be late, because she was singing the National Anthem at the NY Rangers game at Madison Square Garden last night. Holy cow, I can only imagine how awesome that must have been!

Singing the National Anthem, both US and Canadian (Amy is Canadian, but don’t hold that against her) Winking smile is one one of Amy’s specialties. Madison Square Garden is a small venue for Amy. We watched her sing it live (in HD) from a NASCAR event (over 100,000 people, perhaps twice that?). Still, that isn’t what occupies most of Amy’s professional life.

She was a member of both Celtic Woman (one of the most extraordinary musical experiences) and Riverdance. She performed at Tokyo Disney for over a year. The point? Amy can sing.

That’s not all. Amy is downright funny. Not just in her ability to deliver a line, but to conceive and write it as well. An entirely separate aspect of Amy’s career has been the creation of Candy Canadiana, a lovable character Amy created to promote Canada in a lighthearted way. I particularly like the two-part episode, How to Make Maple Syrup. Smile

Combine the three talents (Singing, Acting, Comedy) and you can easily understand why the second I saw Amy, I thought she should be a lead on Broadway. More specifically, in that first blog, I wrote:

Amy has a Broadway style and quality voice. In fact, I would love to see her in Wicked!

Since that first night we’ve seen Amy perform twice. Once at Waltz-Astoria, again accompanied by Alex Berger and at The Metropolitan Room doing a Cabaret Show.

In 2005 Amy put out a CD titled Cashmere of Jazz numbers (covers plus a few originals). We bought that too. If you like Jazz singing and instrumentation, you’ll love this CD!

I have been (and continue to be) impressed with Amy’s voice. I hired Amy to sing on a project that I did just for fun (a Tonight Show Tribute). That was recorded on my laptop, in my living room, in under two hours, so please don’t judge the sonic quality.

You now know everything that I knew about Amy, going into yesterday’s show. More recently, Amy has been shifting gears into a singer/songwriter direction. We’ve seen a few recent YouTube videos but still didn’t know what to expect yesterday. For one, when I asked Amy what type of music we’d be hearing, she said “I don’t know, you be the judge”. Smile The bigger difference is that on the videos of the shows we missed, Amy was accompanied by either a piano or acoustic guitar, for a bigger focus on her voice.

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Yesterday she had a full band (entirely comprised of some of my favorite musicians!), so it was bound to be dramatically different for that reason alone. It was. That still leaves the songs and the performance, so let’s finally get to that.

Amy’s voice came across wonderfully (no surprise). Her songs had a wider range of styles than I expected. For example, Shout it Out delivers quite a rock feel, I Got Your Back is cabaret, The Three Divas is jazzy, etc. For the most part, the songs are up-tempo (even the mellow ones) which gave the band some bones to chew on.

Removing Amy from the equation for a second (as a performer, these are still songs she wrote), I enjoyed the sound of practically every number, so they’re very easy to listen to. The lyrics are more inconsistent (for my taste). I think the numbers that are very personal for Amy need more work. In my opinion, she was likely too emotional when she wrote them, and could use more detachment (even though she’ll be delivering the same message, ultimately).

I was more impressed/interested in the ones where Amy was writing about something/someone else (e.g., The Three Divas). In any event, I believe Amy would accelerate her lyrical journey if she were to team up with a few different co-writers to get varying perspectives on techniques and processes of songwriting.

Back to Amy as a performer. We’ve already covered Amy’s voice, with one exception. Amy has been singing jazz/cabaret/showtunes for so long, that I can’t tell whether that’s so deeply ingrained that it’s the only style she’s comfortable with, or whether she prefers it to all other styles.

I believe (again, just an opinion) that Amy is trying to write songs that would appeal to a broader audience than cabaret lovers. If so, she could be held back a bit since she brings a cabaret-style voice to those numbers (even a drop to the rock-styled Shout it Out). There are so many sets (every day) at Rockwood, that it’s possible there are audiences that go there just to hear that kind of music. We tend to hit up more folk/pop/rock shows and Amy’s voice doesn’t fit most of what we see there.

On to the band, left-to-right on stage, then back for more about Amy and the specifics of the show:

Greg Mayo on electric guitar and grand piano. If you only found this post because of Amy then you have no idea how big a fan I am of everything Greg does. You can spend a few days reading everything I’ve written about him. Greg played electric guitar until the last two songs (beautifully) when he switched to the grand piano.

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Amy’s big finale was I Got Your Back. I’m not a fan of the song (sorry), except for the fact that Greg took a killer piano solo. That part made me very happy to hear the song.

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Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris was really terrific. The songs were mostly up-tempo and Chris kept the bottom full and constantly dancing.

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Ryan Vaughn on drums. Like Chris, Ryan was a critical part of keeping everything gliding along at a nice clip.

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The point is that Greg, Chris and Ryan brought a different quality to the same songs that I saw on YouTube with only a single accompanist. I am pretty sure they only had a single rehearsal. That showed a very few times, but otherwise is just another in a long series of examples of how professional each of these guys is.

Back to the show. Amy invited a friend of hers, the very talented Jason E. Bernard to dance on one of her numbers. Amy met Jason when they were in Riverdance together. Amy cleared his performance with the bartender. They removed one of the tables to give Jason room to maneuver on the floor, not the stage (he was sitting at the bar like any other audience member).

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One verse into Hopes and Dreams, we heard tapping and looked over and saw Jason tap dancing and acting out the story line in dance. The best laid plans…

Unfortunately, Amy never discussed it with the sound engineer, who actually runs each set. He sits perched in the rafters. He thought (understandably) that someone in the audience was distracting the rest of us from the show, and he swooped down the ladder and stopped Jason from dancing.

Amy and the band were incredibly professional. They never lost their place, even though their faces told a very different story. After the song, Amy apologized to the sound guy, taking full responsibility for the snafu. When her set was over, she asked him if they could do Hopes and Dreams again, with Jason dancing this time, and of course, he said yes.

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So, we got to hear the song twice, this time watching Jason dance. All’s well that ends well. Smile

I mentioned that Amy is very funny, and indeed throughout the set, she was just that. A number of times Amy was very quick on her feet bantering with the audience or with Greg and the guys. At some (most?) of her shows, Amy likes to give things away. She asked some questions early on (trivia style) and tossed a couple of T-Shirts into the audience for the correct answers.

One was tossed with no one answering correctly, so it was a generic toss. It hit one of the monitors in the ceiling and was diverted straight to me. Smile There were some other goodies handed out.

All in all a fun show that kicked off a very long day/night of music out for us in good fashion. We saw three additional sets/shows yesterday, each of which will follow this with their own posts. Whew!

Amy knows that we try to post set lists whenever we can. She anticipated that we’d ask for one and customized it for us in advance. Smile

SetList

Live Society, The Thang and Chelsea Lee at Rockwood Music Hall

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I’ve seen Live Society once before when they opened a Benefit Concert at The Bitter End. They were awesome. Ever since then, I’ve followed them and have been trying hard to get to one of their shows (they play reasonably frequently). Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out.

I was reasonably sure it wouldn’t work out last night either. We had tentative plans. Late in the afternoon, they got moved to Monday night, so I was suddenly free and quite happy about it. Lois was wiped from our consecutive late night escapades (captured in posts yesterday and the day before), so she stayed home. In a serendipitous turn, our friend (and extraordinary singer!) Amy Rivard was working in our neighborhood. She agreed to keep me company and we headed down together. We caught a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 first, but I’ll cover that at the end of the post.

Live Society was playing next door at Stage 2.

If you read my thoughts on Live Society in the previously linked post, you won’t have many surprises in what I’m about to say. They were awesome, again. Since the last time was clearly in the context of a Soul Revue, let me at least state that Live Society is an R&B/Soul/Funk band, and a darn good one.

Update: There are a number of corrections/clarifications and filled-in items below. All of the updated information was provided by the all-knowing, all-seeing Sam Teichman. Thanks Sam! 🙂

Brian Collazo is the front man and lead singer. He also played the acoustic guitar on a couple of songs. He has a great voice and an exceptional stage presence. It’s hard to take your eyes off of him during the show, except that you have to (and do), because there’s a ton of additional talent to pay attention to on stage with him.

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Jason Vargas on vocals. Jason sang lead on one song (smooth as silk) and incredible harmony on all the others (with a lead verse thrown in here and there for good measure). He’s a got a smile (and a wink) that melts the ladies hearts (I was surrounded by women, not that there’s anything wrong with that!). I could swear that every time Brian refers to him he calls him “Jay Vegas”, which might be his nickname, but hey, I’m old, and perhaps I’m just doddering and not hearing it correctly. Winking smile

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Kevin Collazo rounds out the vocal part of the band. While he doesn’t sing lead on any songs, his harmony is strong and an integral part of the group. He and Jason are also somewhat like original Motown backup singers, in that they physically move in unison (often enough to notice) and make gestures (like hearts, with their hands) to match the lyrics. Very nicely executed. Here is Kevin, singing with Brian:

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John Kaiteris on electric guitar. John is a superb guitar player. He also writes many of the songs that Live Society records and performs. Simply an incredibly talented individual, even though he doesn’t open his mouth on stage (he let’s his fingers do the walking and talking). Winking smile

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Erik Perez on drums. Excellent! This type of music is so beat-heavy that even a decent drummer could bring the overall experience down if they don’t handle the transitions perfectly. Erik does. Problem solved (or actually, never created!).

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Anthony Candullo on electric bass. Solid job throughout the set. A relief (for me) from the night before, where the bass players were overwhelming in their volume. Anthony’s bass blended in just right. Note that Anthony’s name is linked, but the others aren’t. That’s because I can’t find a good link to each of them as individuals. I guess it’s “Go Team!” for Live Society.

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Scott Harper on tenor saxophone. Scott is listed as a regular member of the band, but I didn’t mention him at the Benefit Concert. So, either I messed up badly, or he wasn’t able to make it that night. In any event, Scott did a terrific job last night on a number of tasty leads. Horns might not be a requirement for this type of music, but they sure are welcome on every single note they play.

Update: Sam confirms that while Scott is the regular sax player for Live Society, he did indeed miss the Benefit Concert, so I didn’t mess up reporting on that show (though I certainly have on many others).

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At the benefit concert, they had a special guest keyboard player, Patrick Firth. Last night a different special guest sat in on keyboards.

Jeremy Baum on electronic keyboards. Very nicely done throughout the set.

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Amy and I both enjoyed the set so much that in addition to signing up for the mailing list (not really necessary since I follow the band and Brian Collazo on Twitter) we also both bought their current EP (they are recording a full-length CD as well). We were both very happy to support the band (tip jar as well) but I’ll admit publicly that I was surprised that a 5-song EP was $10. Hopefully, they’re putting the money to good use, they’re worth it. Smile

Sitting to Amy’s left was a beautiful blond (hey, I already mentioned that I was surrounded by women). It turns out that she’s Brian’s girlfriend (though it sounds way more serious than that, not that I should be putting words in Brian’s mouth!). He noted that last night was their three-year anniversary of making their relationship official. He also noted that she was very kind to be supportive of him for booking a show on their anniversary. Smile

When I first noticed the Live Society show, I also saw that another band was playing the set after them, that I had never seen, but heard interesting things about. Unfortunately, when I thought I couldn’t make it out last night, I promptly forgot about anything other than Live Society. When I showed up at Rockwood, at 8:35, I didn’t realize I’d be staying as late as I did.

Before Amy and I headed into Rockwood 1 we bumped into Chris Anderson on the street. If you never read this blog and don’t see live music in NYC, I’ll forgive you for not knowing that he’s one of our favorite bass players. We saw him the two previous nights, playing with The Big Apple Singers on Monday and with Ian Axel on Tuesday.

Chris mentioned that if we could, we should seriously consider sticking around to catch the set after Live Society. Of course, that jogged my memory that my original intention was to do just that. Amy couldn’t hang that late so she left right after Live Society was done.

The Thang Band is a nearly indescribable group/experience (experience is the better word). First, let me note that I can’t believe that they were able to grab the domain name at this late date in the Internet world. Amazing that everyone else let that go! Winking smile

Of course, I never let indescribable things stop me from describing them, so here goes my best effort.

What happens when you cross/mix the following?

  • Awesome musical talent
  • Incredible showmanship
  • Irreverance2 (that’s squared, not a notation that you missed Note #1 above)
  • Crazy amount of liquor consumption on stage (impressive whether it was real or fake)
  • Something between R and XXX rated themes and innuendo
  • Near-male-burlesque! (OK, not so near, but you’ll understand when you see photos below)
  • An audience of the who’s who of the NYC indie music scene
  • An audience who knows the above and insists that the boundaries be pushed further!
  • Theatrical choreography

Before I answer, while I give you time to imagine it yourself, I’ll note that if I had more time now (I don’t), I could list at least another 1/2 dozen bullet points. Suffice it to say that I was delighted that Lois stayed in, since some of it would have made her squirm, making me more self-conscious as well. This is a show that needs to be enjoyed with complete abandon.

OK, time’s up, what do you get if you mix the above?

Something that could and should be a long-running off-Broadway show, like The Fantasticks, which generated cult-like following, or the Rocky Horror Picture Show (again, for the effect it had on its fans). Not that The Thang is anything like those shows. It’s really a night of inanity and insanity, in song, performed by incredibly talented people.

If you were a blind foreigner, who didn’t understand a word they were singing, and couldn’t see their acting out the words for you (while they are playing and singing!), you would describe the show to your friends as some of the best Rock ‘n Roll you’d heard live in a while. The level of musicianship is top-notch.

If you were a prude, you wouldn’t have the guts to describe it to anyone, and you wouldn’t have a lot to describe, because you’d probably have left after a few minutes. Winking smile

So, since it’s still relatively indescribable, I’ll just say that there’s a lot of sexual innuendo, delivered with a giant dose of tongue-in-cheek (see what I did there?) Winking smile deliciously executed. In fact, rather than saying it’s like The Fantasticks, I really should have described it as one of the better SNL (Saturday Night Live) skits you’ll ever see, because rather than being performed by fake musicians making fun of real musicians, this is performed by real musicians, making fun of fake musicians who make fun of real musicians.

Now you might understand what the Thang refers to in their name…

As you will see in the photos below, the band had an outfit. I need to point it out to you, because if you don’t look carefully enough, you’ll think they weren’t even on stage (they are, after all, wearing camouflage). Smile

TheThangBand

A quick shoutout to the members of the band:

Paul Maddison on electric guitar and co-lead vocals. Paul was excellent on the guitar and vocals! I’m listing him first because he’s the reason I wanted to see them. I had no idea (not until they walked onto the stage) what I was in for. In other words, while Chris Anderson (and others) told me I should see them, I thought it was just going to be another local band that I would like.

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I had seen Paul before, twice, supporting the Greg Mayo band. I was interested to see what he would be like front-and-center. Now I know. Winking smile In a not-so-small irony, one of the first words out of Paul’s mouth on stage was a (very friendly) jab at Chris Anderson. He followed it with “See what happens when you don’t stick around for the show?”.

Dan Golden on keyboards and co-lead vocals. A match for Paul in many ways. They were totally in sync and seemed to feed off each other. The two of them drank what appeared to be huge swigs of vodka from their own bottles in the middle of the set. If it was real liquor (and I suspect it was), it was an impressive amount, considering they still hit every note afterward (and they probably started off drunk, considering that one of their songs is called I’m Still Drunk!).

Update: Sam informs me that they were drinking water on stage, but that all bets were off once the show was over. OK, maybe. Or, they got to him after reading this, and told him to make sure I change it, before their parents got the wrong idea of what they were doing with their time! Sam is clever enough to have thrown me a bone about Kenny Warren (see below) and Scott Harper (see above) to make it all seem a bit more legitimate…

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Rob Pawlings on electric bass and vocals. If you look at the photos, you’ll notice that the band are wearing gaudy necklaces. The only one that looks different is Rob’s, because, apparently, his alter-ego is named Bobby Bananas. Excellent on the bass, excellent on the vocals and Rob/Bobby led the male burlesque part of the evening.

It’s hard to see, but just over Paul’s fingers and guitar is a Banana on a gold chain, hanging from Rob’s neck (in the first photo):

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Dave Freedman on electric guitar. Dave did an excellent job on both rhythm and lead guitar playing. At the end, he and Paul Maddison took simultaneous leads in harmony with each other. Awesome, but could have been longer.

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Kenny Shaw on drums, vocals and some very dry banter. If I understand correctly (just from some quick Googling), Kenny Shaw started this Thang, originally called ShawThang! That shocked me, because I’ve seen Kenny perform with the Greg Mayo Band a couple of times, and he comes off like the most sedate, normal person you could imagine. Clearly, he has a sick, twisted mind that required an outlet. Thankfully, he found one that the rest of us could enjoy with him! Smile

For the last two numbers, a trumpet player jumped up on the stage and sang as well (so he obviously knew the songs). There was too much going on for them to stop and introduce him, so I don’t know who he is.

Update: Sam informs me that it was Kenny Warren. Kenny has a long association with The Thang Band and was also the original trumpet player with The Greg Mayo Band.

OK, I know most of you don’t believe a word I said. This won’t be proof, by any stretch of the imagination, but it should open your mind to some possibilities. It’s a two-year-old video of one of their hit songs, Lipstick on My Booty. Last night, the performance was way more visually descriptive than the video below:

Lipstick on My Booty by The Thang Band

I left chuckling, and once again glad that Lois missed it. Winking smile

Circling back to the beginning of the evening. Amy Rivard was one of a number of friends who was out with us the previous Wednesday to see three sets at Rockwood 1. The first set that night was Chelsea Lee.

As with Live Society, I knew that Chelsea was playing again last night but also thought I’d have to miss it. Once I knew I could make it, I asked Amy if she wanted to head down earlier and catch Chelsea Lee again. She was interested.

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The set, again accompanied by Wes Hutchinson and Spencer Cohen was close (if not a copy) of the previous week. That’s fine, as I thoroughly enjoyed it last week, as I did again last night.

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If there was one complaint, it was that it was a short set. That made for a more relaxed evening, but I would have preferred to listen to more of Chelsea. She’s still very young, so I have no doubt that the material will continue to be written and the sets will get longer in time.

In addition to Chelsea repeating an excellent performance, the same could be said of both Wes and Spencer. The three are well matched. Last week I purchased Chelsea’s 5-song EP. I have listened to it a number of times this week and I have enjoyed every single listen.

Chelsea will be back next week, this time at Rockwood 2, on Tuesday (May 31st), at 7:30pm, in a ticketed show, opening for Greg Holden who is having his CD Release Show that night.

Since the set was short, I had the time to introduce myself to Spencer and tell him how much I enjoy his percussion.

Another excellent night out. My heartfelt thanks to all of you people who spend your lives honing the skills required to entertain me! Smile

Amy Rivard at Metropolitan Room

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We’ve seen Amy Rivard perform twice before. I covered those in blog posts that you can read here and here. One was a Livestrong fundraiser and the other an intimate set in a small club in Astoria.

Last night was Amy’s official NYC Cabaret debut at the beautiful Metropolitan Room. Here’s what I wrote about her after hearing her sing one song at the fundraiser:

Amy Rivard sang, accompanied by Alex Berger on the keyboards. Before I begin, let me take a deep breath, and say Oh My God! Seriously, Amy has such an extraordinary voice. Alex was worried that Amy might be late, because she was singing the National Anthem at the NY Rangers game at Madison Square Garden last night. Holy cow, I can only imagine how awesome that must have been!

There was no way we were going to miss this show. Amy was on stage for 60 wonderful minutes. In addition to nailing every single song vocally and artistically, she was funny and personable in between songs, setting them up with stories from her travels and experiences around the world.

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Those travels included long stints with Riverdance and Celtic Woman. She performed in Tokyo Disney (for a year I think). She has her own YouTube channel called Candy Canadiana, where she shows off her comedic talent and creativity.

Last night’s show was a typical Cabaret, which I define as theatrical in nature (most of the numbers could be from a Broadway show). There’s generally a loose thread that moves you from one song/mood to the next, with stories explaining the shifts. There is a certain amount of acting/emoting during the songs, not just singing.

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Everything in the above paragraph plays to Amy’s strengths. She is one of the most incredible singers you will ever hear, but she can act, tell a story, move gracefully (though she poked fun of her dancing ability) and she can certainly make us laugh.

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She performed 13 numbers that ran the gamut from slow blues to the Mr. Softee song (no kidding, we all had to sing along with her during the last verse, she printed the words out for the audience) to opera!

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The first song we heard Amy sing was Taylor the Latte Boy, a song made famous by Kristen Chenoweth (one of our favorites). Last night, she sang a different number that Kristen does, The Girl in 14G. If you watched that Kristen YouTube video, then you understand my reference to Amy singing opera. She nailed it, just like Kristen does.

Amy sang one of her own songs as well, A Best Friend in Me (yes folks, she also writes some of her own material!). She sang a medley from the Sound of Music. Punctuated in that medley were a bunch of sharp barbs (both sung and spoken).

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Because Amy knows us (I’ll finish this post with how that came to be) she waved us in during her sound check (we always show up early). We heard bits of the Sound of Music medley without hearing the story introducing it. The snarky bits didn’t make sense to me whatsoever. During the show, when she set the context, it all made perfect sense and was another of Amy’s masterful performances.

That Amy isn’t starring in a top Broadway musical is a loss for all of us, mostly for whatever producer isn’t aware of what she would add to their production! We’ve see Wicked eight times. Eden Espinosa played Elphaba two of those times. She was perfect. We then saw Eden in a Cabaret show at Joe’s Pub (covered here). She didn’t deliver anywhere near the quality experience in a Cabaret show that she did on Broadway.

I would love to see Amy in the Elphaba role, so that I can prove (at least to myself) that she can cross over from perfect in a Cabaret, to perfect in a starring role on Broadway. Now, someone needs to make that happen for me, pretty please?

Ross Patterson accompanied Amy on the piano. He is an extraordinary pianist. He had to play as wide a range as Amy had to sing and was amazing throughout. He has accompanied the likes of Julia Murney as seen in this photo. He also plays regularly at Metropolitan Room, with his own band and accompanying others. Catch him if you can, he’s a complete delight in every respect.

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A Frenchman named JP did the lights and sound. I can honestly say that it was the best job of lighting I’ve seen in a club setting. His fade-outs and color changes complemented and enhanced the performance.

After hearing Amy the first two times, I reached out to her to ask if she would lend her voice to a project I produced for fun, a Tonight Show Tribute Song. I wrote the lyrics, Ben Schwartz wrote and performed all of the music and Amy Rivard sang, making us look good. 🙂

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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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…

Amy Rivard and Alex Berger at Waltz Astoria

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We attend a lot of live music. Just this week, we saw Red Molly and The Nields at Joe’s Pub on Sunday. On Monday we attended a Livestrong Fundraiser. On Wednesday we saw Wicked (for the 8th time!). Last night was supposed to be downtime, to recharge the batteries for an even more packed series of shows, some of which involve reasonably long drives to attend.

The best laid plans… On Monday, at the Fundraiser, we saw 11 performers (covered in this post). They were all terrific, but two of the standouts were Amy Rivard and Alex Berger. Alex is about to return to the UK for a number of months, so we thought that would be our last opportunity to see him for a while. The next day, Alex let me know that Amy and he had arranged for an impromptu show at a cafe in Astoria (Queens) called Waltz-Astoria.

One more opportunity to catch Alex before he left was reason enough to go, but if you read my previous post, then you know that we were both mesmerized by Amy’s performance on Monday, so the thought of not attending was ridiculous.

The show was scheduled for 8pm, and we got there at 7:30. That gave us some quality time to chat with Alex and Amy before the show started.

Alex Berger and Amy Rivard

Alex Berger and Amy Rivard

We had an extremely pleasant surprise when Shannon and Jason walked in as well (the Livestrong Fundraiser was organized by them!). We didn’t get a chance to meet them on Monday, so it was a treat to chat with them in a relaxed atmosphere last night.

Amy sang a number of classics last night, including Dream a Little Dream, Ain’t Misbehaving, etc. She also did Taylor the Latte Boy, which is what captivated us on Monday.

Amy Rivard

Amy Rivard

Lois and I have no doubt that we (and many of you!) will be seeing Amy on Broadway in the not-too-distant future. She’s a star, in every respect. It’s just a matter of time until someone who casts for Broadway will be thanking their lucky stars that they crossed paths with Amy! You heard it here folks!

After every few songs by Amy, all accompanied deliciously on a grand piano by Alex, Amy stepped aside and gave the stage over to Alex, who sang two songs solo at a time, before Amy returned.

Alex Berger

Alex Berger

Alex was incredible, including debuting a song he recently completed co-writing with Nate Campany (who was not there last night). The song was fantastic. You should definitely click on Nate’s name above, because the song that starts playing is excellent, and the video is incredibly creative (pay attention to the fades, in and out). 🙂

Now, we have to start following Nate as well. Our burden just grows every single day. Boo hoo for us… 😉

The show was terrific, start to finish. But, the evening was delightful beyond the wonderful music. Most of the shows we attend are structured, with little interaction between strangers in the audience, or any kind of quality time to chat with the performers.

Last night, with Waltz-Astoria being a normal cafe, that happens to spotlight musicians and comedians regularly at night, the atmosphere was completely different.

We stayed roughly one hour after the show ended, talking with Shannon, Jason (her husband), Alex, Amy, a friend of Amy’s (Liz), but mostly, we got know another Jason (Whitfield), also a friend of Amy’s. Really great guy, and we look forward to meeting his fiancée soon (not just because she’s a Rockette!). 😉

Jason Whitfield and Amy Rivard

Jason Whitfield and Amy Rivard

We had a lot of laughs, learned a bunch of interesting things from and about a number of interesting people, and got to hear two amazing performers. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Of course, it was a little bit better than I described though. Here’s the link to the Waltz-Astoria Menu. You don’t need to click through, I’ll copy the description of their Carrot Cake:

One slice of our famous carrot is enough to share with a friend, or.. not. The cream cheese frosting is to die for!

An extremely accurate description. It was more than enough to share, and even though I offered some to Liz, she politely declined, so I got to experience the “or.. not” part. I gained a couple of pounds (seriously), but it was worth it! 🙂

We were back up at the house by 11:15pm, still talking about what a great night out it was. Missing out on a chance to just relax, turned out just fine! Thanks everyone for making it such a special evening!

Livestrong Cancer Fundraiser

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Music can uplift, connect, and at times, even heal. Last night, we got to experience all three facets, working in unison, and it was a beautiful thing!

While we have attended a large number of shows over the past six years, it was only recently (April 2009 to be exact) that we noticed (and were happily pulled into) the incredibly vibrant indie music scene in NYC.

It all began with The Paper Raincoat. Through them, we’ve heard about a number of other local artists, and visited venues we hadn’t been to before. Through ambeR Rubarth (one of the members of The Paper Raincoat) we met Alex Berger (at first, virtually, then in person, at a Paper Raincoat show at Rockwood Music Hall).

We missed getting to see Alex in two consecutive shows. He told me he was playing at a Livestrong Fundraiser for a friend of his, Shannon Black, who is a cancer survivor, raising money for Livestrong, preparing to run in the NYC Marathon. It was such a great cause that we had no hesitation in committing to attend.

First, before telling you about last night, click on Shannon’s name above, and find the link to donate to her fundraiser. You’ll feel a lot better about reading the rest of this post, and enjoying the show you missed, vicariously!

OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

There were 11 performers last night. Nine of them are listed on the page linked to Shannon’s name above (I’ll repeat them all here, but still, click on that page to donate!). With the exception of Alex doing a one-song encore, all but one of the other performers played two songs.

I’m trying to get the order of the performers correct, but since I didn’t write anything down, apologies if I accidentally swap any of them.

Alex Berger opened the show. He sang and played the electric keyboards. Wow! I’d be happy to just listen to Alex play the keyboards, he’s excellent! But, he also writes wonderful songs, and has a really good voice, so he’s the complete package, end to end. Shannon shamed him into adding one last song to close the show. Thanks Shannon, and thanks Alex, for that!

Alex Berger

Alex Berger

Libbie Schrader sang and played electric keyboards. She plays the keyboards very well, and has a very powerful voice. As Libbie described her style to us before the show started, she’s more of a Pop person (Rock/Pop really), so soloing in a small space with just keyboards, probably isn’t the best spot for her. She has a ton of talent, but probably better suited to a larger venue with more pieces in the band (which she usually has).

Lois didn’t get a good shot of Libbie on the stage, but she got a great one of Libbie and Alex before the show started!

Libbie Schrader and Alex Berger

Libbie Schrader and Alex Berger

Deena Goodman and Dov Rosenblatt were on together. Deena sang and Dov played guitar and sang. Both have exceptional voices, blending beautifully, and Dov is an excellent guitarist. The first song was co-written by them. The second song was recently written by Dov (stunningly beautiful!), and he taught the harmony to Deena right before the show started. Folks, while Deena stumbled once or twice (understandably), she really knocked the ball out of the park in terms of enhancing an already gorgeous song. Bravo!

Deena Goodman

Deena Goodman

Dov Rosenblatt

Dov Rosenblatt

Will Knox sang and played guitar. Will’s guitar picking was superb. His voice and songs matched. Absolutely wonderful performance. He has quite a humble persona for someone with this much talent.

Will Knox

Will Knox

Martin Rivas sang and played guitar. Alex introduced him as his personal favorite. I was impressed by Martin (Lois more so than me), but I’d need to listen to him a lot more to understand why Alex feels the way he does, even compared to a number of the other performers last night. Martin has a very strong voice, and perhaps I was distracted that the only time the sound guy (who donated the equipment and his time for the event!) didn’t get it perfect was on Martin’s voice, which was a little too loud.

Martin Rivas

Martin Rivas

Amy Rivard sang, accompanied by Alex Berger on the keyboards. Before I begin, let me take a deep breath, and say Oh My God! Seriously, Amy has such an extraordinary voice. Alex was worried that Amy might be late, because she was singing the National Anthem at the NY Rangers game at Madison Square Garden last night. Holy cow, I can only imagine how awesome that must have been!

Amy Rivard

Amy Rivard

Amy has a Broadway style and quality voice. In fact, I would love to see her in Wicked! (We’re going again tomorrow night, 8th time, so if she could arrange to get into the cast by then, I’d appreciate it!) 😉 Kristin Chenoweth is one of our all-time favorite performers (song, stage, TV, comedy, everything!).

Kristin is one of many who covered a song called Taylor the Latte Boy (here’s the YouTube video, watch it!). That’s the song Amy did last night. Amy nailed the song in every way. Not just the voice, but the mannerisms, etc. (though she’s not quite as accomplished in that regard as Kristin is). Of course, Alex accompanied her to perfection (even though he needed Shannon’s husband, Jason, to hold the sheet music for him, and turn the pages). 🙂

Alex Berger, Amy Rivard and Jason Black

Alex Berger, Amy Rivard and Jason Black

The only disappointment was that Amy played only one song, though at least she played it to perfection! We have to start stalking Amy for future performances!

Kyle Patrick sang and played guitar. Kyle wasn’t listed on the Facebook page. He is the lead singer for a group called The Click Five. Aside from making the girls swoon with his looks, Kyle is an incredible singer, and plays the guitar well too. After his first number, he said he was going to play a brand new one. It turns out that he played the new song from The Click Five, called I QUIT! I QUIT! I QUIT!

Kyle Patrick

Kyle Patrick

Great song (both when he did it solo, and by the full group). In the middle of the song, Kyle popped a guitar string. He was a trooper, and just kept playing (he really didn’t miss a beat!). However, Martin Rivas was even faster. He dashed to the side of the stage, got his guitar out of his bag, and handed it to Kyle in a smooth motion (looping the strap over Kyle’s head as he handed him the guitar and took away Kyle’s!). It was great, and showed a lot of class on Martin’s part!

The shot below looks blurry. It’s not, it is truly capturing the speed with which Martin was moving. 😉

Kyle Patrick and Martin Rivas

Kyle Patrick and Martin Rivas

Shira Goldberg sang and played the electric guitar (all others were acoustic). Shira semi-joked that she was asked (as was everyone else) to play uplifting or happy songs, but that she hadn’t yet written any. 🙂 She sings beautifully, and plays the guitar quite well, but she really wasn’t kidding, her songs are deep bluesy numbers, slow, sad tales. Very talented, but perhaps not perfectly suited to last nights venue or cause.

Shira Goldberg

Shira Goldberg

Lynette Belardo sang. Yes, sang, with zero accompaniment. That’s a very hard, and brave thing to do. Of course, if you have a voice like Lynette, you can pull it off, and she certainly did. Lovely. The first song was a spiritual (very appropriate for the evening). Obviously, a very talented woman, given that most of the credits I spotted on the Net were dancing related!

Lynette Belardo

Lynette Belardo

Michelle Citrin sang and played guitar. She was the other person who wasn’t listed on the Facebook page. Another amazing voice, accompanied by excellent guitar skills. The surprising thing is that she’s tiny, and yet, such a big powerful voice. She had the entire crowd (OK, not including me) belting out some Bob Marley verses with her on one of her numbers. Superb!

Michelle Citrin

Michelle Citrin

I already mentioned that Alex closed the show. We immediately said goodnight and headed home (it was late for us old fogies). We had a wonderful night, discovered another slew of amazing local musicians, and supported a good cause, and some very inspirational people. Very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a small part of last night!