Big Apple Singers

Big Apple Singers and Mighty Kate at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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What do you do when an extremely talented group of musicians doesn’t blow you away, then announces a new show? You go, without hesitation. No two shows are alike and the likelihood of a repeat experience is low.

When I noticed that The Big Apple Singers (TBAS) were playing last night at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 at 10:15pm, I admit to a second’s hesitation (making my second sentence above a bit of a white lie). However, when I also noticed that it would be a night of songs exclusively by The Band and would likely be TBAS last show for a while (ever?), I really had no hesitation.

It was a fantastic set. The only complaint was that much of it was too loud, but not in exactly the same way as the last time.

TBAS is four people and they brought up four guests as well. I’ll get to the guests after I mention the main guys. Left-to-right on the stage:

Greg Mayo on keyboards (grand piano and organ) and vocals. Greg has an excellent voice and he put it to good use last night on leads and harmonizing with the others. Greg is my favorite local guitarist, but he doesn’t play guitar in TBAS. Greg is an excellent keyboardist (aside from seeing him with TBAS before, that’s his instrument of choice in his own band, the Greg Mayo Band).

GregMayoPiano

I have always enjoyed Greg’s keyboard play (at every show), but last night he took it up a notch. He played some parts with both hands on the grand, others with both hands on the organ and many with his left on the organ and right on the grand. All were tingle-worthy.

GregMayoOrganPiano

All three of the lead vocalists (including Greg) took one very long solo (without any accompaniment whatsoever) to start off one song each. Greg’s was entirely on the organ. He played for somewhere between 3-5 minutes while everyone on stage and in the audience stared at him and his fingers in amazement.

GregMayoOrganSolo

Evan Watson on electric guitar and vocals. Evan is an excellent guitarist and has a powerful voice. As I mentioned in my last post about TBAS, he’s very generous on stage. When Josh sings or does a drum solo, Evan squats on the stage so that the audience can see Josh. I didn’t mention it in the last post, but this is the second time that Evan broke a string on his primary guitar. Just like last show, rather than string a new one, he grabbed a spare electric guitar on the next number.

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Just like Greg above, Evan took a 3-5 minute solo on the electric guitar to kick off a song. It wasn’t too flashy, more like a building melody that kept the crowd interested, with their pulse (or at least mine) rising slowly but surely throughout, so that we were primed for the full band to kick in when the solo was done.

On the last number, Evan wailed on the harmonica quite well. I knew he wasn’t going to play it again that set, because when he was done with the harmonica, he tossed it (unceremoniously) on the floor and immediately switched to a guitar lead. Smile

EvanWatsonHarmonica

Josh Dion on drums and vocals. I was late to the party on hearing about and seeing Josh. He’s a favorite of many people whom I respect and that goes for me as well now that I’ve seen him a number of times (on drums and on keyboards). He’s an excellent singer and an amazing drummer.

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Just like Greg and Evan, Josh took a 3-5 minute solo. He’s soulful when he’s drumming slowly and blazingly fast when the sticks are just a blur. At either speed, he’s tasty and captivating. The looks on the band’s faces (let alone the crowd’s) were priceless!

JoshDionSoloSticksFlying

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Chris did a great job on the bass. In addition to singing harmony, Chris took the lead on a verse in at least two separate songs. The only other time I’ve heard Chris sing lead was at the last TBAS show. He does it quite well.

ChrisAndersonBassChrisAndersonSinging

Rebecca Haviland on vocals. Rebecca jumped up on stage a number of times. Twice by herself and two other times with the ladies I will mention next. What can I say about Rebecca’s voice that I haven’t said before? Well, I’ve mentioned how powerful it is (coming from a tiny person), but not how easily she was able to be heard over the too-loud music. Such a force. Rebecca has her own set at Rockwood 1 on Thursday at 8pm. We’ll be there. Join us and experience this dynamo first hand!

RebeccaHavilandSingingTambourine

The first time Rebecca came up, three other women joined. Two of them are the leads in a group called The Vanity Belles. Carrie Welling (no good individual link) and Jessi Rae Waltz (also no good link) both added to the vocals and dancing, standing on either side of Rebecca. Both Carrie and Jessi joined Rebecca on a second song later in the set.

CarrieWellingRebeccaHavilandJessRaeWaltzAshleyLehmann

Ashley Lehmann joined Rebecca and The Vanity Belles the first time they were all up on stage. Considering that all four members of TBAS sing (well!), that made eight voices rockin’ it out on that number. Fantastic!

I am very glad to went to see TBAS again. Smile

Before going to a show at Rockwood, I always check to see who’s playing the set before. Aside from the opportunity to discover good music serendipitously, I do it because Rockwood has limited seating and we prefer to sit. Back in January, when doing exactly that, the set before was Mighty Kate (Katy Pfaffl).

MightyKatePiano

If you visit the site I linked above, at the time I’m typing this, the song Better Days starts playing automatically. That’s all I needed to hear to know we’d be attending the earlier set independent of the desire to sit. Unfortunately, Katy (or should I call her Kate, or Mighty?) got very sick and canceled that set back in January. I admit that I forgot to track her, but it turned out she didn’t reschedule until last night anyway (I’ll explain later!).

Imagine my surprise when I checked who was on before TBAS and immediately recognized the site and song. This was a no-brainer, we weren’t going to miss a second chance to see Kate/Katy/Mighty (OK, I’ll stop now). Winking smile

The set before Katy was a paid show, so even though we arrived way too early for her set, we had to wait outside. Thankfully, the weather was nice (it ended up pouring at some point while we were enjoying the two sets and was nice when we left again!).

Even though we were the first two to line up for Katy, the line got long pretty quickly. It was amusing to see how many people showed up claiming to be performing with Katy. It felt like a cast of thousands (it ended up being seven people in total).

Kate (see what I did there, I switched to her performing name) started the set off solo, playing the grand piano and singing. A very mellow, jazzy number that highlighted both her incredible voice and her excellent piano skills. Not the greatest song to grab a somewhat noisy crowd by the throat, but for those who listened, a well executed opener.

For the most of the remaining numbers (very few exceptions), Kate was joined by a drummer and bassist (electric). I’ll get to them shortly.

In addition to having such a great voice, Kate is also a mutli-instrumentalist. In addition to her piano play (most of the songs), she played an acoustic guitar (mostly picking, a little strumming) and a violin (on one number). She’s good on all three, but the piano play was the strongest (and most consistent).

MightyKateViolin

Not every song grabbed me, but all were very pleasant to listen to. Some were great. Many of the lyrics were deep, sophisticated and flowed very naturally. She’s a very talented woman (more on that in a bit).

Rich Mercurio on drums. I can’t find a good individual link for him, but here’s a summary on a band page (a little outdated, but wildly impressive nonetheless):

Manhattan based producer/musician/songwriter, has produced and written for various record and television projects. Rich has recorded and/or performed with artists including Enrique Iglesias, Jewel, Chris Whitley, Vitamin C, Jonatha Brooke, Michael Bolton, and Ronan Tynan. Appearances include The Tonight Show, The Late Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brian. He can currently be seen in the broadway production, Martin Short, Fame Becomes Me

RichMercurio

Richard Hammond on electric bass. Read his performances and discography. Be prepared to have your mouth agape while you’re doing it.

RichardHammond

That accounts for two of the seven people that performed with Kate, the two Rich’s (as she called them) forming the core band members.

Matt Doyle joined Kate to sing a cover, Thin Air by Aqualung. Kate played acoustic guitar and they sang harmony throughout. They were amazing together. Matt’s voice was buttery smooth.

MightyKateMattDoyle

This is as good a time as any to fill in why Kate waited five months to reschedule at Rockwood. Both she and Matt are currently appearing in War Horse at Lincoln Center. While Kate was on stage entertaining us, War Horse was winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play! Nicely done, Kate, Matt and all involved in the play.

Kate brought out two women to sing harmony with her on two numbers. Morgan Paige and Nisha Asnani. Very nicely done ladies.

MorganPaigeNishaAsnani

Jody Shelton joined Kate toward the end of the set for another duet with Kate on acoustic guitar. Another winning combo. In other words, in addition to singing so well alone, Kate is masterful at singing harmony with others and at choosing the right people to sing with.

MightyKateJodyShelton

OK, we’re down to one last (very special) guest. Kate brought out Scott Chasolen to accompany her on piano while she sang a gospel song (the only song that Kate did not play an instrument on). Scott wowed us the only other time we’ve seen him, at a recent Rockwood-based Backscratch show. I found out after the show that Scott is Kate’s husband. They too were well matched, but Scott, who has an excellent voice himself, didn’t sing on this number.

ScottChasolenMightyKateSingingGospel

Kate closed the set with Morgan and Nisha singing harmony. She explained that she tries really hard to sing at least one new song every time she performs. Given her current schedule, she hasn’t had much time to write. She performed a song that she said she wrote mostly in her head, Bright Star. It was awesome, truly, so perhaps we need to lock her in her loft bed (I think that’s where she said she wrote it) more often. Smile

There was quite a large crowd there for Kate and they wouldn’t let her get off the stage when her set was over. She was given permission to play one more. She performed it solo on the piano. It was another brand new song, that she begged forgiveness for in advance if we didn’t like it. This was the first time anyone was hearing it in public.

Kate, no need to worry, it too was beautiful. Lois was particularly drawn to that last number, so you left us on a high note. Smile

MightyKateSetList

Big Apple Singers at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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I started the first of four posts tonight (this being the 4th and final one) with a question as to whether this night would turn out to be as epic as I expected. If you read posts #2 and #3, you’ll know that there were enough frustrations to make that highly unlikely.

That said, there was the promise that this final set would put the night over the top. After all, it was a similar setup to The Narwhals who completely blew me away just a few nights earlier. If you only want to hear glowing things about these musicians, read that post and stop now!

The two main people in The Narwhals are Josh Dion and Greg Mayo, both extraordinary musicians (multi-instrumentalists and vocalists). Both are equally highlighted in The Big Apple Singers (TBAS). In this configuration, Josh moves from the keyboards to the drums and Greg moves from guitar to the keyboards.

Another main person (likely the leader of TBAS) is Evan Watson on the electric guitar and vocals. Rounding out the group is one of our favorite bassists (and people), Chris Anderson.

GregMayoChrisAnderson

A disclaimer is necessary, for people who don’t regularly read my blog. I write this blog for 1.5 reasons. The main reason is simply to document the things we do that we want to remember for as long as we live. We know memories are fleeting (in the sense of accuracy). The minor one is to promote the musicians that we have fallen in love with, but that’s really secondary.

The few negative things I have to say about last night’s set are for me to remember how I felt, not to knock people who have more talent in their pinkie than I have in my whole body. Also, I might be the only person in the overwhelmingly crowded Rockwood Music Hall stage 2 that felt this way. The joint was jumping and everyone there appeared to be enjoying one of the best sets they’d ever seen (including the friends we were there with!).

So, how could the same basic set of people that thrilled me on Wednesday, just have me enjoying myself a few nights later.

First, everything was so loud (probably to compensate for the huge crowd) that it was all a bit fuzzy. Of course I could make out all the leads, but they were drowned out by the other instruments that were wailing along rather than subtly accompanying the leads. On Wed, due to the blizzard keeping the audience smaller, everything was a more reasonable volume and the clarity of every note was outstanding.

Second, while The Narwhals played a set of only covers, TBAS played both covers and originals. Some of the originals had excellent musicianship, but were hardly stellar songs (IMO). There was also one direct comparison. Both groups played The Shape I’m In by The Band (TBAS opened with it). TBAS did it well, The Narwhals were awesome. I guess that set the tone for me early on and TBAS never overcame it for me (with one notable exception).

Left-to-right on the stage:

Greg Mayo on grand piano, electronic keyboards and vocals. Wonderful on everything.

GregMayoKeyboards

Evan Watson on electric guitar and vocals. Evan is a very good guitarist, but a little too heavy handed for my taste. It’s possible that it was this particular show or set list. I’m already planning on catching him with his other band, The Headless Horesemen, on February 17th, so I’ll get a second look. He has a very good voice and classic hard-rock theatrics.

EvanWatsonEvanWatsonChrisAnderson

Josh Dion on drums and vocals. Awesome on the drums, great vocals. He took one very long drum solo. When he was done, Evan challenged him to crank it up. He did. The second solo was dramatically faster than the first. I still don’t know how his arms didn’t fly off. That said, just like my comment about Vinnie Sperrazza from Wednesday, Josh is even better in his drumming on every single song than his solos.

JoshDion

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. In the past, we’ve only heard Chris sing harmony, mostly when he’s playing with Ian Axel. Last night, during one song, Chris took an entire verse himself. He was great and the audience let him know it.

ChrisAndersonSinging

Robbie Gil was brought up as a special guest singer for one song. Robbie performed the set before TBAS and Josh Dion and Greg Mayo played in his band. I was sorry to miss that set (and will correct that as soon as possible), but we were next door at stage 1 seeing Derek James.

RobbieGilSinging

Robbie kicked off another The Band song but insisted that each of the other band members sing at least one verse (that’s the song that Chris took a lead on). Robbie’s voice was wonderful as was his spirit on the stage. It’s the one exception I noted above to nearing the feeling I had on Wednesday.

Another thing that we rarely see, which we applaud, was Evan Watson squatting (Chris as well) whenever Josh Dion was singing lead. How rare to get a peek at the drummer, tucked way in the far corner at Rockwood 2. A wonderful touch.

JoshDionSingingEvanWatsonSquatting

When they were done, even though they had passed their allotted time, people wanted more (remember, nearly every person there appeared to me to have loved every single second of the set!). After getting permission (which seemed to take longer than usual), the band reconfigured themselves.

Josh Dion took the keyboards, Greg Mayo the guitar and Evan Watson the drums. They did a Josh Dion original. Very nice and a little twist to end the evening.

JoshDionPianoGregMayoGuitarEvanWatsonDrums