Beacon Theatre

Matthew Morrison and Ian Axel at The Beacon Theatre

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Matthew Morrison headlined The Beacon Theatre last night. That’s a very big deal for a lot of people (I mean his fans). We wouldn’t have noticed, except for the opener, Ian Axel (listed as a Special Guest on the marquee). We don’t watch Glee, but I’m aware of how big a hit it is and how big a following it has and how beloved Matthew Morrison is to those fans.

BeaconTheatreMarqueeMatthewMorrisonIanAxel

I normally cover the headliner first. The exception is when the headliner doesn’t mention the opener. Since Matthew didn’t even acknowledge that there was an act before his, let alone repeat his name, I get to cover Ian first (which I am happy to do).

(Apologies for the dearth of photos and the awful quality of the few I’m posting. Lois uses a compact, and we were much further back than usual. It was effectively useless…)

This is the second time in less than a week that we’ve seen Ian Axel open for a very big headliner. The two shows couldn’t have been more different. Last Thursday was an outdoor, full-band show, with a possibly larger crowd (hard to tell, it was in a park), opening for Five For Fighting. Last night was mostly Ian (no band), acoustic.

One thing that was the same, fantastic sound systems and sound engineers at both shows, but the indoor acoustics at the Beacon wins hands down. We’ve seen Ian solo and with full band enough times that there were only a few surprises.

Ian opened the show with Waltz, which starts with a long-ish piano intro. Considering what an incredible pianist he is, it’s a great way to introduce newcomers to his skill. On the other hand, I imagine that some people might have been thinking that they would be listening to classical music until Matthew hit the stage.

IanAxelPiano

That feeling might have been exacerbated considering that Ian had a single musician accompanying him, the world-class cellist, Dave Eggar. I’ll come back to Dave in a minute.

DaveEggarIanAxel

I still think Ian picked an excellent song to open with. The lights went down at exactly 7:30pm (the announced show time), which is awesome, but catches way too many people scrambling for their seats. The piano intro gives people something to latch on to aurally and just when they sit, bam, the singing starts.

IanAxel

The vocals (for everyone, not just Ian) were so perfectly mic’ed with the volume set just right that on some level, it was like hearing Ian for the very first time (as in chills down the spine effect). Ian’s voice is highly nuanced and really portrays (captures?) the emotional content of his songs.

Ian can captivate with just a piano, no problem, but I still prefer the full band sound, partially because he has a great band. Dave Eggar is such a great cellist (no matter the musical format) that having him alone replace a full band was quite interesting. He’s not just playing mellow strings in the background. He creates percussive sounds (not quite mimicking a drum, but filling in that feeling), fills in bass lines, etc.

In other words, if you can’t bring a band, bring Dave Eggar! Smile

DaveEggar

Ian then introduced the next song, Gone, and calmed the crowd down (in advance), lest they misunderstand the purpose of the song. If you listen to it, you’ll understand why he feels the need. His intro worked, with the majority of the audience chuckling (appropriately). Dave accompanied Ian on Gone as well, then left the stage.

Ian switched gears and played Leave Me Alone! solo. Such a fun song, delivered perfectly. I was impressed that everyone seemed to be listening to the words (another advantage of great sound engineers and acoustics), because they laughed (hard) at the right places. It’s funny on the CD, but Ian’s live delivery adds a dimension that can’t be captured without the visuals.

Ian asked the audience if they would sing along to the call/answer section, It Ain’t Easy. Many did (I sang really loud, sorry to those around me who wished I didn’t). People also clapped to the rhythm. Ironically, there is a special clapping part in that song, but to a cool beat, not just straight clapping. I don’t blame those that came for Matthew for not knowing that, and I don’t blame Ian’s fans (me included) for not trying to confuse everyone by doing it right. Winking smile

Ian then introduced his writing and singing partner, Chad Vaccarino. The two of them performed a very special version of one their newest (unrecorded) songs, Rockstar. This is another song that works perfectly with and without the band. Chad’s voice is something that every music lover should experience, live, at least once. Now that I’ve heard him at the Beacon, I highly recommend that you hear him there. Smile

IanAxelChadVaccarino

Like they did in Stamford (for the first time), they morphed the song into Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. I might be mistaken (and probably am), but it seemed that they sang considerably more of the song last night, their voices blending beautifully together. Before finishing it, they morphed back into the end of Rockstar.

At this point I’ll mention the only niggle about Ian’s performance. He was playing on a baby grand. If I am correct, it was an electronic device, not an acoustic grand. Typically, Ian changes the pressure he applies on the keys (and pedals?) to create dramatic emotional shifts in the sound of the music, even when he plays alone.

Rockstar and Leave Me Alone! both have such shifts (typically). With a full band, the shifts are easier to create between the bass and drums, but Ian is very effective. Last night, either the nature of the “electronic” piano, or Ian’s change in style, or something regarding sound leveling, no such shifts occurred. The volume and feel of the piano was constant throughout each song.

Ian and Chad closed their set with their signature hit, This is the New Year. Perfect.

It was an absolute treat, short though it was, to see them in such a gorgeous venue, supported by excellent sound engineering, playing to an attentive and appreciative crowd, made up mostly of strangers to their music!

On to the headliner, Matthew Morrison.

I understand that we had as little sense of what to expect of Matthew’s set as most of the crowd had before Ian’s. I also understand the there are big themes in the show Glee, that his (and the show’s) fans would be disappointed if he didn’t reproduce, or find a way to pay homage to, on stage. The point of this defensive intro is to say that I understand that there was context to his performance, this wasn’t just a singer/songwriter coming on stage to share his music.

Ultimately though, Matthew Morrison is touring in support of a new, self-titled CD, that was released in May 2011. While it may instantly appeal to Glee fans, if he is to have real success in the music business, it better have much wider appeal than that.

The show started with a large screen dropping from the ceiling in the back of the stage. There was a short clip of Matthew driving a car, with Jane Lynch sitting in the passenger seat. The clip was extremely funny, well produced and delivered. I also happen to be a huge Jane Lynch fan (obviously having nothing to do with her role in Glee). That set a good tone for me.

When the lights came on, Matthew’s band was already on stage. He came out in a tux (complete with bow-tie).

MatthewMorrisonCenterStage

Before I describe the show (from my perspective, for his fans who will want to jump all over me), I’d like to list a few positive things (none of which I knew before):

  • Matthew Morrison has a fantastic voice. I was really impressed, across a wide range and many genres, it held up on every song.
  • He moves extremely well on stage (some would call it dancing, which he certainly did a bit of). He even did a split to end one number, so he’s certainly more limber than I ever was. Winking smile
  • He exudes warmth. I left with the impression that hanging out with him (as a person, not as a celebrity) would be a fun thing to do.
  • He’s a reasonably good songwriter (more on that later).
  • His new CD is pretty good (more on that later as well).
  • The show was entertaining (which is not the same as saying it was a good or great concert).
  • His band is exceptional, each and every one, including the three backup singers.

To summarize, he’s extremely talented. I didn’t know that he was a Broadway star before yesterday, but I totally get it. He has the voice, he has the extremely fluid moves and he is clearly an actor.

All of the above feels like it’s leading up to a but… It is, unfortunately.

But, the show felt like it belonged in Las Vegas. If he had sung Danke Shoen, the image would have been complete in everyone else’s mind as well. This was more of a production than a concert. That’s fine, many people (millions?) go to see these types of shows in Vegas (and elsewhere) all the time. But, he’s promoting a CD, including original music, and I admit feeling completely lost at trying to reconcile the two.

What made it Vegas to me?

  • More covers than originals
  • Many covers were actually medleys (often alternating rather than sequential)
  • Anachronistic dancing (Gene Kelly-like moves to a Rap/Hip-Hop number?!?)
  • Costume changes (OK, a weak one) Winking smile
  • He had a special guest (covered later), who also did a cover

There are probably more examples, but if the above don’t give you the sense, we’re just going to see it differently, which is fine with me (hopefully it’s fine with you too!).

That’s not the real problem I had with the show. I like entertainment for the sake of entertainment as well, even though, to repeat, Matthew is really pushing a CD, not a traveling show (I applaud touring in support of CD sales, so that’s a positive, not a negative for me!).

For me, given the production, and the nature of the arrangements (even though played by outstanding musicians and sung by someone with a great voice), made the covers feel stale for the most part (a very few notable exceptions). In my head, the words rounded corners (yes, an oxymoron) kept repeating.

He/they were reproducing the originals without the same excitement, nor were they interpreting them in any interesting way. Hence, stale.

On the other hand, he performed at least four originals (perhaps more, I didn’t know at least four songs). I really liked all of them, in particular the two singles, Summer Rain and Still Got Tonight! So, he can write songs that I like, but he chooses to play songs that don’t differentiate him from anyone else. Oh well…

The real point is that he delivers his own material freshly. It doesn’t feel manufactured. It’s coming from within him. I know, it’s fresh to me because I haven’t heard it before, but that’s not really it, it’s the actual delivery that I’m talking about. Actors (on Broadway) deliver the same lines every day, sometimes for years on end. The great ones make them fresh to each audience, even when members in the audience have seen the exact show many times.

Matthew has been touring with New Kids on the Block and The Backstreet Boys. After mentioning that, he said that of the boy bands, he preferred ‘N Sync. He started to sing one of their songs.

Halfway through, JC Chasez (of ‘N Sync) walks onto the stage, microphone in hand, singing along with Matthew (and taking some verses himself). The crowd went nuts (well, most did).

JCChasez

When the song was over, there was some loving exchanged between the two, then Matthew left the stage so that JC could sing a song without him. Above, I used the word manufactured. Here’s one example. The last thing Matthew Morrison said as he walked off the stage was: “When I return, I better see you all standing on your feet!” (or something like: “I’ll be surprised if you’re not all standing on your feet when I return!”). The point being, if you’re a fan of Matthew Morrison, you’re going to stand, whether you were moved to or not, or you’re letting your idol down.

JC gave a long (rambling) introduction before singing. He was self-deprecating (and got a really good laugh for it) when he interrupted himself and said: “This is why they don’t usually let me talk into the microphone.” Smile

Then he started singing Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. OK, great song (by any measure), and he and the band delivered it really well. But seriously, you get one song to sing, and you pick someone else’s? Also, this was hardly a Rock Show. But, instantly (and dutifully), nearly everyone in the place stood up (for the entire song). We didn’t, and for all I know, we might have been the only two people sitting during that (and one other) song.

Why did it feel odd to me, even though I love the song and thought they did a great job? Because there are a hundred Journey cover bands in the US (probably a dozen in NYC), most of whom can nail the sound (perhaps better than they did last night), and I can guarantee you that 80% of the people who stood and rocked out with JC last night, wouldn’t put $5 in a tip jar for those bands, and certainly wouldn’t stand throughout the song. They got to pay a heckuva lot more for the privilege of hearing covers last night.

OK, I could go on (an on), but I’ll shift gears and wrap up.

First, another shout-out to the band and backup singers, they were really top-notch pros.

Kiley Dean singing and dancing. She was excellent all night, but when Matthew was finishing up a Soul number, he took the opportunity to introduce each of the backup singers and give them a few seconds of lead to show off their stuff. All were really good, but Kiley killed it, hitting some super high notes amazingly for a finishing flourish.

Kamilah Marshall singing and dancing. Everything I said about Kiley applies here as well, with the exception that she didn’t quite push the mini-solo. She was otherwise completely outstanding throughout the set.

There was a male backup singer/dancer who also was excellent, though somewhat less highlighted than the ladies. I can’t easily find his name, though Matthew Morrison definitely introduced him (I don’t take notes, everything is from memory, augmented by searching the Net the next day).

BackupSingersPartialBand

Likewise, he introduced his band, but I assumed I’d have no trouble finding them online. I am giving up, so I’ll just briefly describe them without giving them the proper attribution. Left-to-right on the stage:

The bass player (electric) was fantastic. He also played a keyboard/synth on at least one number.

The drummer was incredible (playing a very large kit). For one of the medleys, he came to center stage and played the bongos. Everyone else left the stage and Matthew Sang with only the bongos accompanying him. I applaud the drummer’s play on those as well (Matthew asked the lighting person to shine a spotlight on his fingers, which were flying).

BassPlayerDrummer

Unfortunately, that was also the lowlight of the evening for me. Matthew sang a medley from West Side Story. His voice? Perfect. The bongos? Perfect. Singing a medley from West Side Story, solo, with just a bit of percussion? Borderline ridiculous. (Not even up to Vegas standards!)

MatthewMorrisonBongoPlayer

The keyboards player (L-shaped setup with an organ and electronic keyboards that sounded like a piano), was absolutely terrific and was highlighted on one number that he nailed.

Two guitar players. One alternated between an acoustic guitar on which he played rhythm and an electric on which he took a number of excellent leads. The other one played electric all night. He took a number of leads, but his volume was lower than the other guitar and it was a bit harder to pick out his skill level. Given how incredible everyone else was, I have little doubt that he’s that good too!

On to the final positive thing, followed by the biggest negative one.

The point of the tour is to promote the CD. If the tour can make a profit, all the better, I’m sure. At those ticket prices, I would guess they accomplished the latter, but did they accomplish the former?

Well, thanks to Spotify, I actually listened to entire CD this morning (that never would have happened if I didn’t see the show last night). Since Spotify pays royalties, I’ve already contributed an additional $.00000034 to Matthew Morrison beyond his take of the uber-expensive $180 (with fees) we paid for our two tickets to the show.

Here’s my take on the CD:

I like it! I don’t love it, and I’m unlikely to buy it, but I wouldn’t swear to that. If any Matthew Morrison fan were to promote it to me, I would not look at them funny, or think they were weird.

I said above that I liked his original music, and that holds true for the CD version as well, so it’s not a matter of only coming across well live. Two of the covers that he performed last night are also on the CD, but there they are actual collaborations with the original artists (Elton John and Sting). The songs came across stale/flat on stage, but are better (still not my choice of listening material) with Elton and Sting singing verses as well.

Last night he also sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow (one of our favorite songs). He did a nice job, nothing special. It’s not the original arrangement, but rather one that I associate with Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, though perhaps he didn’t originate it either. On the CD, it’s a collaboration with Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s fantastic. After listening to it, I took off the headphones and played it again out loud for Lois to enjoy with me. Smile

So, here’s what Matthew Morrison accomplished yesterday by having Ian Axel open for him:

  • He extracted $180 from my wallet, though he didn’t get every penny of it personally Winking smile
  • He impressed me with his incredible talents
  • He entertained (and annoyed) me
  • He got me to listen to his CD
  • He got me to promote his CD here
  • I will speak favorably about his CD to anyone who shows an interest
  • I will check out his future recordings, especially if they contain original music!

That’s not a bad night’s work if you ask me.

All of which brings me to a complaint that nearly everyone had (especially in the orchestra section), which had nothing to do with Matthew Morrison (though I’d like to believe that the headliner can and should affect these things!).

As with a number of other venues/shows, but worse last night than I’ve ever experienced, they continually shone bright lights directly into the audience. These were land airplanes in fog level brightness. Blind you level brightness. There is no reasonable explanation for doing this that I can dream up.

InsaneBrightLightsPointingAtTheAudience

Even if you aren’t sensitive, the light overwhelms (and therefore obscures) whatever section of the stage it’s coming from at the time (yes, they rotate from all angles!). At the extreme, I can imagine it triggered some migraines! The only thing that could have made it worse would have been to strobe them. That would have surely set off epileptic attacks.

I’m not alone in my feeling. Lots of people around us were shielding their eyes and grimacing. Even on Matthew Morrison’s site, there were comments this morning about how horrible the lighting was, questioning the purpose. Like I said, not his fault, unless they did it in rehearsals, in which case I can’t imagine they would have done it had he asked them not to.

The best part of everyone standing up for two entire songs? We had human shields to protect our eyes, however brief that was…

Allman Brothers Band at Beacon Theatre

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Two years ago I saw the Allman Brothers Band (ABB) at the Beacon Theatre (without Lois). While I normally write very long music posts, that one was extremely short (mercifully so, say my readers). 😉

Everything I said in that post applied to last night’s show as well. So, you would think that I could make this an even shorter post. Unfortunately, that’s no longer my style, and in addition to telling a little more about our experience, we also have photos, since Lois was with me this time.

We also had tickets to see ABB last year at the Beacon. Unfortunately, that entire slate of shows was canceled due to Greg Allman having a case of Hepatitis C.

The show last night was called for 8pm, but I knew from the show in 2007 that it was highly unlikely to begin on time. I was right. The lights finally went off at 8:27pm, and after three minutes of milling around in the dark, the music began at exactly 8:30.

As in 2007, the sound system was impeccable. You could easily pick out any instrument and follow it clearly. Very cool with so much going on at the same time. As is my newer custom, I will briefly cover each member of the band, in the order they were standing (or sitting) on the stage, then share some of the surprises of the evening.

First a shot of the entire band, so you can get a sense of their placement on the stage:

Allman Brothers Band

Allman Brothers Band

Greg Allman played the organ and electric piano at the far left edge of the stage. I don’t know how he feels inside, but from my perspective, he’s 100% back to normal. His voice is strong, his playing very good, and he seemed in good spirits all night long.

Greg Allman

Greg Allman

Warren Haynes plays lead guitar (essentially the Duane Allman role). He’s awesome, but he’s not Duane Allman. I’ll have more to say on that later, but I actually enjoyed his playing more last night than in 2007, and I also noticed his leadership more last night. He’s the primary traffic caller (at least that’s how it appeared to me).

Warren Haynes

Warren Haynes

Derek Trucks plays lead guitar (essentially the Dickey Betts role). Since Dickey Betts is one of my favorite all-time guitarists, and since he was my favorite ABB member, Derek has some tall shoes to fill for me personally. There’s little doubt that he’s a monstrously talented guitarist, and has played with some of the greatest (including 20 years with ABB, and he’s only 30 now, yes, that’s not a typo!).

Derek Trucks

Derek Trucks

Oteil Burbridge plays the bass. In 2007, I noted that he was amazing. He’s really one of the best rock bassists I’ve ever seen, and he was awesome last night (as I bet he is every night).

Oteil Burbridge

Oteil Burbridge

The four of them form a row across the front of the stage. Behind them is a row of three drummers/percussionists.

Jaimoe plays a normal drum set (at least from my vantage point, but he was furthest away from me). He’s extremely good, but his arm movements are way more controlled than the other two drummers, so it’s a little harder to associate some of the drum sounds directly with him.

Jaimoe

Jaimoe

Marc Quinones plays both a normal drum set, and also a large bongo set with his hands. He probably plays the bongos a bit more (65/35 if I had to guess), and he’s awesome at both.

Marc Quinones

Marc Quinones

Butch Trucks plays the drums, and on one number, also plays two giant stand-up bass drums (like an orchestra would have). In 2007, I didn’t cover each individual member, I only mentioned how amazing the three drummers are. So, I had no idea that Butch is Derek Trucks’ uncle, and actually gave him his start in the business.

Butch Trucks

Butch Trucks

I highly encourage you to read Butch’s bio, linked above, as I too believe that he is the glue that keeps the band’s sound so tight. He’s an absolutely extraordinary drummer (and probably a guy I’d really like hanging out with as well!).

ABB is so tight, it’s hard to describe. That’s with seven people wailing at the same time, and three of them drumming their hearts out. The slightest mistake would be painfully obvious, and they simply don’t make any.

This year is their 40th anniversary, and they’re doing it up in style. Even in a normal year, they typically have surprise guests join them on stage at the Beacon. It can be different people each night, so if you’re only going on one night (as we did/do), you have no idea who it might be, even if you read about who joined the night before.

Right before the intermission, three guys came on stage to join them. Left to right, they were:

Brian Mitchell (the site is not responding as I am publishing this, so I’m not sure this is the correct site!) played eletric piano and organ. He was exceptional, and better than Greg Allman (significantly) IMHO.

Brian Mitchell

Brian Mitchell

Tommy Talton payed guitar (standing to the right of Derek Trucks) and sang some as well. He’s very good, but not as good as either Warren or Derek.

Tommy Talton

Tommy Talton

Scott Boyer was next, playing acoustic guitar (rhythm) and later switching to electric. He was on stage more as a vocalist (singing lead on a few numbers), rather for his guitar skills, which may be considerable, but he didn’t display them last night.

Scott Boyer

Scott Boyer

They played for 75 minutes in total, and then took a 30 minute intermission. When they returned, there was another special guest on stage, Sheryl Crow! She sang three numbers, and played guitar on the last one. She has a fantastic voice, and it worked well with ABB.

Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow

In case you aren’t convinced yet, it turns out that the Internet is pretty cool (who knew?). With one Google search, I found a site that has the full setlist from last night, including a YouTube video of Sheryl Crow singing Can’t Find My Way Home (and the concert was just last night!). The quality of the YouTube video isn’t half bad, and you can also see Derek Trucks playing the guitar (Warren to a lesser extent) and Marc Quinones playing the bongos.

Both Brian Mitchell and Tommy Talton joined ABB for a number of additional songs, including the amazing encore (One Way Out). James Van DeBogert came out for the encore only, played the drums, making four simultaneous drummers during the encore. I don’t recall him being introduced.

They played 65 minutes before leaving the stage for a couple of minutes, returning for the one-song encore. In total, they were on the stage for 150 minutes. Given the 30 minute delayed start, and the 30 minute intermission, from original show time until we left was 3.5 hours, a long night for us old fogies.

By now, you are probably praying that this is the end, but unfortunately, it’s not. I still have some more things to share. 🙂

When I wrote the post in 2007, I mentioned that I preferred Duane and Dickey to Warren and Derek. Other than saying that they didn’t duplicate Duane and Dickey’s sound exactly, I am not sure that I could have explained what I really thought the difference was (meaning, was I just lamenting not hearing exactly what I was used to?).

I think I can put it into words a bit better now. One of the reasons is that while exercising today, I listened to the full two CDs of my favorite ABB album, Live at the Filmore East. Since they played both You Don’t Love Me and Statesboro Blues (both on that album), and both were still fresh in my mind, I was able to make the connection.

Duane and Dickey essentially play symphonies, with all of the thematic variations, both solo and in duets with each other, while remaining so true and consistent with the awesome drummers and bass. Every note makes sense in the context of the song. There is also rarely any pause whatsoever. The guitar is wailing non-stop, dancing up and down the frets creating the symphony.

Warren and Derek have the technique, and the physical talent, but for whatever reason (they don’t want to duplicate the old sound on purpose, they don’t like it, they want to innovate and just jam, etc.), they miss the soul of the song (the ABB songs, not their own!). Their leads often seem to be disconnected from the actual song, other than fitting the beat. There are often long pauses as they appear to decide what they feel like playing next.

Technically, it’s all virtuoso, and they are really great guitarists, but when you listen to Duane and Dickey do it (live too, since Filmore East was recorded live!), the difference is so obvious, and magical. Do yourself a favor and listen to Statesboro Blues from that album, and hear what perfection the guitars are!

Having come last night with different expectations, I wasn’t really disappointed at all in the play of Warren and Derek. It was great, just different, and not what I would pick if I could resurrect Duane and Dickey. Since I can’t, I still thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

On to our final chapter, Lois. While I bought two tickets to see ABB at the Beacon three years running, this was the first time Lois actually came. The first year, she offered the ticket to a friend who is a huge ABB fan, and she went with his wife to see Abigal Washburn and Bethany and Rufus at Joe’s Pub.

The second year was canceled (as noted above). This year, I offered to find someone else to go with, but she insisted that she would give it a try, and bring along her ear plugs! We had pretty good seats (13 rows back, aisle and one in, but very right orchestra).

While the ear plugs worked really well according to Lois, nothing else did. It’s really as far from her kind of music as you can imagine, plus she’s not familiar with it, so there’s no anticipation either, and, as expected, everyone in front of us stood for the entire show! I stood for all but two songs (and didn’t really mind it this time), and Lois stood for three or four songs.

Normally, the thought of standing all night is anathema to both of us. If you’ve read this space before, you’ll recall that we left the Sister Hazel concert before it started (and we really love them!), when we found out that the new Filmore at Irving Plaza is Standing Room Only (SRO). So, why didn’t it bother me last night?

Even though I stood, I had a seat! What? That means:

  1. I had my own space, which was only slightly invaded by the drunk to my right
  2. I could put my hands on the seats in front of me to shift my weight
  3. I could sit when I wanted (giving up a bit of the view), like I did for two songs
  4. I could sit for the entire 30 minute intermission, and for the 45 minutes that we were there before the show started!

Compared to standing in a wide-open room, with tons of drunk people dancing all around you, it’s simply no comparison. Lois couldn’t understand why people choose to stand. The music is more of a sway along rather than a dance along. She was surprised at how slow some of the numbers were, but of course, she didn’t know that many of the ABB hits are really blues-style rock.

I don’t intend to subject her again to this type of show, but I really did love it, all of it, and would happily go again in the future, likely with someone else. 😉

Al Jarreau and Najee at the Beacon Theater

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The Beacon Theater has been running a Valentine’s Day Concert for some number of years, sponsored by CD101.9, the local NYC Smooth Jazz radio station.

Last year was the first time Lois and I went, and we saw Dave Koz, along with David Benoit and Jonathan Butler. The mention of that concert was one paragraph buried in a very long post about Rediscovering Live Music. That’s too much to read, so here’s the relevant paragraph:

We saw Dave Koz at the Beacon Theater on Valentine’s Day. It was an amazing show, even though the acoustics were horrible! He had two special guests that played most of the evening with him and his band. David Benoit and Jonathan Butler. David Benoit is one of the great jazz pianists. Lois is now one of his biggest fans. I had never heard of Jonathan Butler before. He’s a South African singer and guitarist. He blew me away. Anita Baker was supposed to be a special guest, but she got snowed in and couldn’t make it. Koz got his buddy Be Be Winans to step in at the last minute. Be Be sings “The Dance” on the Koz album of the same name, and is one of our favorites. It was a special treat to see him sing that song live!

When I saw that there was another Valentine’s Day Concert this year, headlined by Al Jarreau with Najee opening for him, I grabbed the tickets immediately. A little over a week ago, I received an announcement that CD 101.9 would no longer be playing Smooth Jazz (they’re switching to some kind of Rock format). They made sure to point out that the concert was going to be held as planned.

I’ve written about the Beacon Theater a number of times, and the fact that they are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. Of the three, I’ve also noted that the Beacon starts its concerts on the late side.

Last night, we decided to take the bus. I left plenty of time, and we didn’t have to wait for the bus that long. Lois always wants to leave earlier than I do, but last night, she relented. Unfortunately (for me), there was more traffic than I anticipated, and a police action in Times Square, and a Fire Engine a little further up, and it was clear that we wouldn’t get there as early as I had hoped. Still, I wasn’t nervous, because they always start late.

We got there at 8:04, so not too late. The house lights were still up, whew. But, as we walked down the aisle to find our seats, the lights went off, and Najee’s band started to play. Oops. Luckily/thankfully, the usher at the head of the aisle guided us perfectly. She said: “You’re in the fourth row from the stage, five and six seats in from the aisle.” We were able to find our seats without reading the numbers. Another whew.

The seats were a huge (and very pleasant) surprise. I knew we were in row DD, but in some theaters, AA comes after Z, in others (perhaps most Broadway theaters), AA is the first row, as turned out to be the case at the Beacon. Yay!

I wasn’t familiar with Najee’s music, though I’ve know of his reputation as an amazing musician for many years, so I was excited to see him. He was awesome, as was his entire band. He plays a number of instruments (different forms of Saxophones, a flute, etc.). Here he is playing the flute (click on any photo to see a larger version):

Najee on the Flute

While every member of his band was incredible and deserves a direct mention, I’ll cop out and call out two of them. Unfortunately, while I paid attention each time Najee named the band members, I also assumed that I could easily find their names on the Internet today, and for whatever reason (brain addle, etc.) I simply can’t! 🙁 The only name I am sure I can recall is the percussionist (different than the drummer) who is Victor Williams.

The drummer (feel free to leave me a comment and fill in his name! Update: as you can see in the comments, his name is Kentric Morris) was extraordinary. While he was playing an awesome solo, Najee came on the stage, grabbed a bottle of water, showed it to the crowd, then handed it to the drummer. He drank the entire bottle (holding it in his left hand), and continued the solo (feet and right hand), without missing a beat, in a pretty wild (in the good sense) solo. Wow.

Then, while still playing the same solo, a minute later, Najee came on the stage with a Blackberry in his hand. He asked the audience to yell “Hello” as he pointed it to the crowd. We did. He asked us to yell louder, we did. Then he handed the phone to the drummer. Again, the drummer continued the solo while speaking on the phone. It turns out it was his mother, and he had to excuse himself for having to get off so quickly. It was hysterical, especially when he promised her that he had attended church this past Sunday. 😉

The other guy to single out was the guitarist. He was formerly with the B-52s. I thought the name was “Chuck”, but I can’t find any mention of that, so I’m sure I was wrong. Anyway, aside from being an excellent guitarist, all but one of Najee’s numbers were instrumentals. The one exception was sung by the guitarist, and he did a heck of a job. He’s from Roanoke, VA if that helps identify him. 🙂 Perhaps, one of you can recognize him from his photo:

Najee Guitarist Singing

Update: People in the comments confirmed that the guitarist is Chuck Johnson.

Aside from making great music, Najee is personable and very conversational with the crowd. They were on for just under one hour, leaving the stage at 9pm.

As happened the previous night at MSG, they didn’t cover the stage between acts. Since we were in the fourth row, we got to see the entire disassembly and reassembly of all of the equipment for the two groups. They opened up the back of the stage to get the equipment straight out to the trucks. That meant that the outside air was rushing in during that operation. I was in a T-Shirt, but loved the breeze. Lois was in long sleeves, and had to put on her winter coat. 😉

Al Jarreau’s band came on the stage at 9:32, and they started to play at 9:34 while the lights were still on. The lights were turned off by the third note, and people rushed to their seats. A minute later, Al came on the stage to a thunderous applause, along with a female singer (again, really sorry about not nailing people’s names last night!). She joined him on four or five numbers, and they sang wonderfully together.

Al Jarreau in a Duet

In addition to having one of the silkiest voices around, with a mind-boggling range, Al is also a great entertainer, who is enjoying himself on the stage as much as the crowd is enjoying him. He’s 68-years-old, and hasn’t lost even a touch of his vocal capabilities. When he sings in a deep register, it’s smooth, clean, powerful, and you’d think he was a 400 pound bassist. When he reaches for high notes, there’s no strain in his voice, and he can whisper them, or belt them out. To repeat my characterization above, simply mind-boggling.

I’ve been a fan of Al’s forever. I bought Breaking Away on vinyl, when it first came out (in 1981), so it’s at least 27 years that I’ve been listening to him. I love that album so much, that I also own the CD.

If you don’t know him, get to know him. 😉 In addition to phenomenal singing, he also scats with the best of them. But, in addition to normal scatting (whatever that means), he scats all of the instruments in his band. If you close your eyes, so that you don’t know it’s him, you could easily confuse his voice for a real instrument. It’s cool, trust me. 🙂

As with Najee (who joined Al for one wonderful number!), Al has an incredible rapport with the crowd. There’s something Buddha-like about Al. He radiates love, peace and joy, and openly promotes prayer and mindfulness throughout the show. Here’s a photo of the two of them together:

Al Jarreau and Najee

He played an extraordinary set for just under 90 minutes, including an encore. He never left the stage after saying the first goodnight, slipping into the encore. I was thrilled to be there last night!

One political footnote.

If you’ve read my stuff before, you know I really can’t stand when an entertainer mixes politics into the show. I’ve also said, if you’re going to do it, make it part of the music, not a speech.

Both Najee and Al made exactly one reference each to something that could be considered political. In both cases, it was classy and understated, and most definitely not preachy. Both could have (and possibly should have) avoided it, but I can’t imagine they offended anyone, certainly not me.

First Najee. He pointed out that he was in LA (Ventura Boulevard I think) and saw 25 people demonstrating on behalf of Obama. What amazed him was that all 25 were white people. He (Najee) pointed out that 50 years ago, that sight would simply have been inconceivable, and it made him proud to be an American, and very hopeful about what it meant for our collective future.

I completely agree with him, as did the crowd. This wasn’t an endorsement of Obama, nor a refutation of Hillary, nor a put-down of Republicans. Merely, an observation that something fundamental may finally be changing (for the better) in this country, when it comes to tolerance of differences (racial and otherwise). Amen!

Al’s was more political, but as classy as could be in that regard. In introducing one of his more famous songs, We’re In This Love Together, he said that he was dedicating it to sending a message to Washington that we don’t want any more war. He then wove that theme into the song itself, two or three times.

But, I say it was classy, because he never once mentioned Bush, The Administration, Republicans, Conservatives, Right-Wingers (those who conspire vastly and those who don’t), etc. He didn’t need to curse any of the above, to get his message across.

To that, I also say Amen. We can all have our own points of view, but we’ll never come to any collective understanding if the civility in our dialog continues to be rhetoric and defamatory based.

Alison Krauss is Awesome

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Last night Lois and I went to see Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas at the Beacon Theater in NYC. We went with our friends who took us to see Harry Connick Jr. at Radio City Music Hall.

We were all looking forward to a wonderful dinner at Ruby Foos first. Of the four of us, I was the only one who had eaten there before, the night of The Allman Brothers Band concert.

Since Lois and I buy our tickets well in advance for most shows, we have a drawer that we keep them in, stacked in the order that the shows will be held. On the day of the show, Lois typically bugs me 10+ times (no, this is not an exaggeration) to make sure I take out the correct set of tickets. I always get annoyed, but we always end up with the correct tickets when we leave the apartment.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, Lois didn’t ask even once if I had taken out the tickets. We got in a cab at 6pm heading to Ruby Foos. At 6:25pm, we were still in the cab, 1/2 a block away from the restaurant, when our friends called my cell. They were running 10 minutes late, and wanted us to order for them. While they were still on the phone, Lois casually asked me whether I had the tickets on me. Of course, I realized instantly that I did not.

Oops. Role reversal. Now I told our friends that we would be the late ones, and that I would call once we were headed back to the restaurant, to see if there was still time for them to order for us. We stayed in the same cab and headed right back to the apartment. When we got there, we asked the driver if he wanted to take us back to the restaurant after waiting 3 minutes for me to go upstairs, and he declined. So, we had a $31.00 cab ride from our apartment, to our apartment…

I grabbed the tickets and we caught a cab to start the entire journey again. At 6:57pm, I called our friends and told them what to order for us. We walked into the restaurant at 7:20pm (the show was called for 8pm). The food was late in coming to the table, around 7:36pm! We asked for the check as the food showed up, and walked out of the restaurant at 7:58pm. The food was amazing (as is the atmosphere there), and Lois and our friends all wanted to return there for a more leisurely dining experience sometime in the future.

Finally, on to the concert. We were seated in plenty of time, and even got to continue schmoozing with our friends for a reasonable time before it started, at roughly 8:20pm.

Alison Krauss has a voice that is nearly as good as Martina McBride (previously reported on by me), but not quite there. One of the few complaints (and yes, I feel silly using that word to describe her stupendous voice) is that she elevates her volume dramatically when she shifts to high notes. She hits them flawlessly, and her voice is crystal clear (at all octaves), but it’s occasionally a tad disconcerting that the volume shift is so pronounced.

While the style of music is eclectic, with a reasonable range, the heart and soul of Alison Krauss’ music is Bluegrass. For 30+ years, I have always liked Bluegrass (and Dixieland as well), but until recently, I never really knew any specific artists. For example, in the past, I used to buy Bluegrass “Collections”, with 20 “hit songs”, for $3 in a bargain bin somewhere. I have a number of those.

As reported previously, after seeing Ricky Skaggs with Bruce Hornsby, and then discovering the Bluegrass channel on XM Radio, I have now come to appreciate specific Bluegrass bands (as well as purchasing a number of their CDs). Ironically, I believe that the real first step in this new discovery was falling in love with Nickel Creek (led by Chris Thile, also previously reported in this blog). I say ironic, because Alison Krauss produced at least one of Nickel Creek’s albums.

I recognized 80% of the songs they played last night from the CDs that I own. I am not crazy about her newest one (and she played 2 or 3 songs from that one last night as well), but I’ve only listened to it straight through once, so perhaps it will grow on me. I can heartily recommend Alison Krauss and Union Station Live (2 volume set) and Lonely Runs Both Ways. They played a bunch of stuff from those CDs, and they were great on all of those numbers.

The crowd was nuts about her and the band, and gave rousing ovations after each and every song (even the ones I could have done without). 😉

Talk about loyalty, most of the band members have been together 16+ years! They also were the award winning music behind the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

They performed two songs during the encore. After the first, they quickly (and impressively) rearranged all of the microphones on the stage, and the entire band (sans piano player) got together in the center in a tight grouping, and played an acoustic number called A Living Prayer from the Lonely Runs Both Ways album (the last song on the CD). If you were in the audience, and didn’t get chills when she sang this song, get thee to a doctor (you can pick which kind) right away! 🙂

Anyway, another smashing success in our nice run of fantastic concerts. We both look forward to catching Alison and Union Station again (and again). And, we can’t wait to relax with our good friends at Ruby Foos as soon as possible!

Martina McBride Rules!

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This could easily get very long, so either settle in, or bail now, seriously! 🙂

Last night, Lois and I went to Radio City Music Hall to see Martina McBride perform. From past posts (or if you just happen to know us), you know that Lois is a country music fanatic. However, for all of the live music we’ve seen over the past few years, none of it has been country.

At least two have been bluegrass, which we both like (me probably more than Lois), but it has been a long time (over 15 years) since we saw one show at the Grande Ole Opry in Nashville, and neither of us could tell you who was in it (at least I can’t). 😉

I can remember when I first discovered that my stereotype of country music was wrong. It was 20 years ago (give or take a year), when my boss’ boss mentioned to us that his favorite artist was Juice Newton. Yup, I thought he was pulling my leg. I can’t remember whether he gave us a copy of her CD or we bought it, but either way, we ended up with a copy. It might also have been one of the first CD’s I ever owned, as I was a little late to the party of adding a CD player to my stereo at the time.

There are lots of excellent songs on the CD, but one of my favorites is “Angel of the Morning”. It’s not that I became an instant country fan after hearing that CD, but it is the case that my mind was opened to hearing more.

I honestly can’t recall whether Lois liked any country artists before that CD, but sometime close to hearing that CD, she went on a much deeper odyssey into the genre than me. For those who know us, you know both of us can be compulsive. Mine are usually gambling or gaming oriented, with an occasional tech project thrown in. Lois’ are generally more noble (or at least useful, and for certain less destructive).

Lois’ obsession with country music hasn’t faded one bit. It has simply grown and morphed. There are groups that we used to listen to repeatedly, that she has no interest in any longer. However, in all cases, they have just been replaced by someone she is now exploring, musically and lyrically, etc. It was not unusual in the past for us to listen to a specific song five times in a row. Now, it’s rarely more than twice, so some change has occurred. 😉

Anyway, for a very long time, Martina McBride has been at or near the top of Lois’ favorites. She has a voice that is truly incredible, and even though she doesn’t write most of the songs she records, she is active in selecting and producing the records, and her talent for recognizing and polishing other talent is evident.

Our goddaughter is graduating from William and Mary tomorrow. When I first heard that Martina was coming to NYC, and to Radio City Music Hall no less, I was 99% sure that we’d already be down in Virginia for the graduation and wouldn’t be able to make the show. Through a series of events (some of which were misunderstandings on our part), we decided that we could commit to being in NYC through Friday night (the night of the concert). I bought tickets.

We had seats toward the back of the orchestra, center stage. Even though we were pretty far back, the seats were reasonably good, with one exception. The sound board (which is pretty damn big) was four rows in front of us. In itself, it wasn’t that distracting, but it attracts lots of people (most of whom are working) and they are standing around it, which is very distracting. Oh well.

The acoustics, as usual in RCMH, were outstanding.

RCMH is owned by the same people who own Madison Square Garden and The Beacon Theater. I’ve written about the Beacon twice already (Dave Koz and The Allman Brothers). They run a very impressive technology marketing program. I usually get emails directly from them announcing artists that are coming to one of their venues, and am offered an opportunity to purchase tickets at least two days before they go on sale to the public.

However, what was impressive to me this time, was that I got an email a day before the show, letting me know the lineup for the evening. The opening act was going to be Rodney Atkins, coming on at 8pm. He was to be followed by Little Big Town. Then there would be a short intermission, followed by Martina at roughly 9:30pm, all subject to change, of course.

I can’t ever recall getting this kind of information before (without having to explicitly dig for it myself). It was very nice to know that Martina wouldn’t be on until 9:30, so that expectations are set appropriately.

OK, finally, on to the show. 😉

We are familiar with both Rodney Atkins and Little Big Town. We own Rodney’s most recent CD (he has three), and both of Little Big Town’s, so it was a bonus that they were both opening for Martina. Rodney came on almost exactly at 8pm (unusual, since most shows start at least 5-10 minutes late, and some much later). He was good, and didn’t disappoint, but he wasn’t amazing. In fact, he’s better on the CD (and the Radio, yes Jamie, including XM). 😉 I don’t mean to imply anything negative about him or his performance, it was all good, just not exceptional in any way.

He only played four songs, all good ones, including two of his big hits: “If You’re Going Through Hell” and “Watching You” (a.k.a “Buckaroo”).

After a short break, Little Big Town took the stage. They are incredible. Two guys, two women. All four can sing well enough to be solo stars. The guys both play guitar, reasonably well, but mostly rhythm. The band behind them are also incredible. Lead guitarist played a number of instruments (including Dobro), drummer, bassist, etc. Their harmonies are not to be believed. They played for nearly 50 minutes, and every second was delicious.

Then the expected “short intermission”, slightly longer than announced.

At around 9:40 Martina took the stage. Wow. Her voice is crystal clear, operatic range, strength, softness without breaking up, in short, she can produce any sound she wants, the way she wants to produce it. In addition, she has a stage presence that all of the greats do.

I realize that if I start describing individual songs, I’ll miss tomorrow’s graduation, so I’ll make some larger points, and then conclude with the encore. 😉

Martina also has an exceptional band behind her, which includes her brother Marty, who plays guitar and sings really well too. They did a duet where he sang the part that Keith Urban does on her CD. The lead guitarist is amazing, which brings me to my big point.

Many people who profess to hate country (or more likely make fun of country music), do so on the basis of their perception of the lyrics of the genre. That’s my personal opinion. In addition to thinking that the lyrics are predictable (and silly), and that the voices are twangy, I guess that most non-country lovers also think that the musicians are inferior to their favorites.

If I’m right about that, then they are wrong. The top acts all have extraordinary musicians, and the musical productions are first rate as well. Some songs are as good as the best rock bands, other as good as the best pop bands, etc. To me, the genre is most defined by the content of the lyrics, but otherwise, it’s a little harder to categorize the entire genre as different than the others.

I’ll finish that thought in describing the encore.

After a long standing ovation (one of many that Martina garnered throughout her set), she came back with the entire band for an encore. Before the band came out, just the lead guitarist came out, and he played a wild solo electric guitar riff that was definitely rock. When the band joined in, and Martina took the stage, she rocked out with Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”. Of course, Martina nailed it. But, so did the guitarist. He did the solos as well as Pat Benatar’s group ever did, and that’s not to take anything away from Pat’s guitarist (get it?).

Martina has a woman in her band, Jennifer (I missed her last name). 🙁 She played the fiddle, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and sings harmonies with Martina. She is so talented and has so much stage presence as well, that I will be surprised if I don’t hear about her going out on her own at some point in the future. As Martina said: “She sings like an angel”.

After “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was over, the band left the stage, and Martina stayed only with her lead guitarist. This time, he only had an acoustic guitar. After telling a story to introduce her final song, she sang “Over the Rainbow”.

Are you kidding me? For Lois and I, accurately accused Wizard of Oz (and more importantly) Wicked fanatics, this was the perfect culmination of the evening. It was an amazing rendition (interestingly, Dave Koz also did a beautiful “Over the Rainbow” at the Beacon). Also, the guitarist was wonderful on the acoustic guitar this time, minutes after rocking RCMH on an electric one.

We walked home on cloud nine, and Lois couldn’t stop talking about the concert all the way down to Fredericksburg in the car this morning.

To sum it all up, Wow!

The Allman Brothers Band

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OK, so last night was the night. My friend and I went to see the Allman Brothers Band (ABB) at the Beacon Theater. Previously, the only other time I was at the Beacon was for Dave Koz on Valentine’s Day. That show was awesome, but the acoustics were horrible. I suspected it was the sound guy, doing a terrible job at the sound board, and not the theater.

I was right 🙂

The acoustics for ABB were fantastic. As I described it to Lois (for those you of you read this post, you’ll recall that Lois went with my friend’s wife to see a different show last night), with the music wailing, one of the three drummers pulled out a tambourine, and when he tapped it (that’s right, not beat the hell out of it), you could hear the tiny symbols crystal clearly. We were sitting in the last row in the orchestra. Wow.

So, I truly enjoyed the show, and wasn’t disappointed at all. That said, two things to note on the negative side, even though they were minor in comparison with my overall enjoyment:

  1. We had to stand for nearly 90% of the show. When everyone else stands, you stand, or you may as well be home listening to your CD’s. It’s not that I get tired (I’m in pretty good shape), but I just prefer to enjoy the show while seated. Oh well, the energy level was good enough to carry me through (on stage, and in the crowd as well!).
  2. By any measure, ABB is noted primarily for the dueling lead guitars. The two guys currently fulfilling that role are no slouches (Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks), in fact, they are obviously talented. That said, they aren’t even remotely close to Duane Allman (deceased in 1971) and Dickie Betts (still playing, but no longer with ABB). I never saw Duane play, but I have seen Dickey live. Live at the Filmore East is one of my favorite albums, so I also know how Duane played.

They opened with a famous song, and I realized the difference in the guitarists right away. But, song number 2 was Statesboro Blues (one of their best), and in that one, the difference was stunning. Still, the song was fantastic, and their riffs outstanding, just not perfect. 😉

Aside from the guitars, the other thing that I always credit ABB with is a driving percussion section. They are one of the few bands with 3 full-time drummers. They are awesome, and I found myself concentrating on them a lot during the evening. They also had 2 guest drummers sit in on a few songs. On one of them, it was 4 drummers playing alone on stage, and it was mesmerizing!

Finally, the base player (Oteil Burbridge) was amazing.

All-in-all, a really fun night, that will be long remembered.

Rediscovering Live Music

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Sorry folks, this is likely gonna be another long one. It’s 5:30pm on a Sunday, and I’m relaxing in the hotel down near Zope, and this is what I feel like doing at the moment…

From my mid-teens until my early twenties, I was a fanatic for going to live concerts. I went to a variety of shows, but by far it was mostly rock or folk. Among my favorites back then were Dylan, David Bromberg, The Greatful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Santana, etc.

The greatest concert I ever attended was a 12 hour affair. My friends and I drove from NYC to Washington, D.C. for a concert at RFK Stadium. I was 16, and only had a learner’s permit (this will become important later in the story). 😉 At noon, the warm-up group came on, The New Riders of the Purple Sage. They played for 2 hours, and were excellent. At 2pm, The Greatful Dead came on, and played for 5 hours. At 7pm, The Allman Brothers Band came on, and played for another 5 hours.

Both the Dead and the Allman Brothers were awesome. Hard to pick between them that day, but perhaps (just perhaps), the Brothers outdid them a bit. Of course, since they got to go last, it could simply have been that their stuff was still ringing in our ears all the way home. 🙂

Anyway, when we left (hitting the parking lot at 12:30am), the driver (the only female in our group) was too tired to drive at all. So were the other two. I felt fine, but wasn’t legally allowed to drive at night, without an adult, and oh yeah, I had never driven on a highway either! 😉

Suffice it to say, it was quite an experience for me, and a drive that normally takes 4+ hours took a little more than 3.

I can still remember my last live concert (of that era) like it was yesterday. I got two tickets to see David Bromberg at Town Hall. First row in the Balcony. I was incredibly excited. I had seen Bromberg live 5 times before, and each one was better than the one before. He’s a magical live performer who really connects with the audience.

Much to my surprise (and chagrin), the audience was mostly teeny boppers. I was all of (perhaps) 23, so I was truly mature… It seemed to me that I was the only person in the audience who had ever heard of Bromberg, and came to actually see him specifically. The rest seemed to be out for the evening, hanging with their friends. They never stopped talking (loudly) even for a second. At least twice, Bromberg stopped playing in the middle of a song (I had never seen something like that ever before) and practically begged the audience to be quiet. They didn’t comply… 🙁

I decided that night to stop going to see live music…

That pretty much held true until nearly 15 years later. The Greatful Dead were playing Madison Square Garden, and I was able to get two tickets in the fifth row center as part of a charity thing. I wanted to do it both because I was crazy about the Dead, and because I wanted to share this kind of experience with Lois, who had never seen a band like the Dead play live.

We were grossly disappointed. Everyone stood the entire evening, and Lois could barely see the stage even standing on her seat (and we were 5 rows back!). The selection of music was a little strange as well, and they played the shortest concert I’ve ever seen them do, in the 5 times I’ve seen them live. Oh well, my admonition not to go to live concerts seemed safely back on…

I think the only exception to that rule was an evening at a Jazz Club in NYC (Birdland) to see Stanley Jordan. If you don’t know him, he plays an amazing style of guitar whereby he taps on the strings on the frets, rather than ever picking or strumming. He creates quite unique sounds, and is a fantastic performer. I enjoyed the evening. That night was more about an evening out with friends, including dinner, rather than the concert being a real destination.

Then it all changed (albeit a little more slowly to begin with) 😉

On January 17th, 2003, our godson (who was a junior at Duke at the time) came for a long weekend with some of his friends from school. Lois is a master planner and goes out of her way to try and pack as many interesting things to do whenever people come to visit. Our godson played the trumpet in the Duke marching band so Lois looked around to see if any famous trumpet players were in town. Indeed, Arturo Sandoval was playing at the Blue Note.

I think there were 7 of us there for the show, and we had dinner beforehand, and totally enjoyed the show. As much as I love jazz (and I really do!), Arturo’s style isn’t necessarily my favorite, but seeing him perform live was still a wonderful experience. In December 2003, our godson returned with a nearly identical set of friends for an encore (I think there was one swap in the group). We went back to the Blue Note, and saw Jane Monheit. Wow, can this lady sing. I got in trouble on this trip because we got to the club a little later than usual, and had the worst seats in the house (which aren’t that bad!), but Lois still hasn’t forgiven me, over three years later…

From that point on, we went occasionally to the Blue Note, either by ourselves, or when someone was visiting from out of town, and once even went with local friends (if you can believe that). 🙂 Among the people we saw there (I can’t remember them all) were Bob James (writer of the theme song from the TV show Taxi), Maynard Ferguson (twice, unfortunately now deceased), Acoustic Alchemy (probably my favorite jazz group!), Chuck Mangione (was my favorite for a long time, and is still amazing live) and probably another one or two.

This was over a period of three years, which is why I said above that it built slowly at first. Last September, it hit a fevered pitch, as we broadened our venues beyond the Blue Note. I started actively searching for tour dates for some of my favorite groups, and immediately found out that David Bromberg was playing at BB King Blues Club. We had never been there. The show was awesome, and included an hour of a group called Angel Band (which is three women who sing harmonies like angels, including David’s wife Nancy Josephson).

Since then, we’ve been to BB King’s many times. We’ve seen a wide variety of shows there, including the following groups: Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby (who tour and record together now, which we didn’t know in advance. They were awesome.), Shawn Colvin, Paul Thorn (he opened for Ricky and Bruce, and was a delightful surprise), Quicksilver Messenger Service (they were boring), Jefferson Starship (used to be a favorite, but they’re over the hill, were awful, and we left early!), The Commitments (from the movie of the same name), Yama Bandit (unannounced opening group for The Commitments), Sunday Gospel Brunch (tons of fun!), perhaps one or two others…

We also discovered a fantastic small club in NYC called Joe’s Pub. The first group we saw there is one of my recent favorites, The Duhks. Then we saw Master McCarthy and Fools for April with our godchildren. Finally, we saw David Bromberg solo there. A great treat!

We saw Dave Koz at the Beacon Theater on Valentine’s Day. It was an amazing show, even though the acoustics were horrible! He had two special guests that played most of the evening with him and his band. David Benoit and Jonathan Butler. David Benoit is one of the great jazz pianists. Lois is now one of his biggest fans. I had never heard of Jonathan Butler before. He’s a South African singer and guitarist. He blew me away. Anita Baker was supposed to be a special guest, but she got snowed in and couldn’t make it. Koz got his buddy Be Be Winans to step in at the last minute. Be Be sings “The Dance” on the Koz album of the same name, and is one of our favorites. It was a special treat to see him sing that song live!

Last week we saw Chris Thile and his new band The Tensions Mountain Boys at Zankel Hall, which is part of Carnegie Hall. Chris is considered by some to be the world’s greatest mandolin player. We used to think his last name was pronounced “teal”, but it turns out it’s “theely”, who knew. After recording a few albums on his own, he was the lead person in Nickel Creek (one of my favorite groups), before forming this group. Zankel Hall is under ground at Carnegie Hall, and perhaps the best acoustical venue we’ve ever been in.

That pretty much catches you up on what we’ve done. We have two more shows coming up in the next month. On April 3rd, we were supposed to see The Allman Brothers Band together at the Beacon Theater. Two weeks ago, we were having dinner with two of our favorite people, and we realized that the guy was a big Allman Brothers fan. Lois isn’t (simply because she hasn’t listened to them much, not because she actively dislikes them), and we offered up her ticket to him. Instead, Lois and his wife are now scheduled to see Abigal Washburn and Bethany Yarrow + Rufus Cappadocia at Joe’s Pub. We found out about Abigail Washburn when we were seeing Yama Bandit at BB King, and the person next to us (who was friends with the Yama Bandit band) told us how great Abigail is.

Finally, friends of ours who got dizzy when we recounted the above to them over sushi, surprised us a few weeks back and told us that they bought four tickets to see Harry Connick Jr. at Radio City Music Hall on April 21st (inspired by us). We’re looking forward to that show as well. 🙂

Whew! Done at 8:10pm…