Bowery Ballroom

Rosi Golan Lead Balloon CD Release Show at Bowery Ballroom

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I’m a very big fan of Rosi Golan. I love The Drifter and the Gypsy (until last week, Rosi’s most current CD). I love her side-project, The Open Sea (with Ari Hest). Their EP is extraordinary. The chance to see Rosi perform is good enough reason to come out.

RosiGolan

Add to that a full band, an amazing lineup before her and an actual new CD to celebrate (Lead Balloon) and there was no doubt this would be a great night out.

It was!

Rosi is a great songwriter. Independent of that, she has one of the most amazing voices. There’s a clarity that’s hard to describe, but I’m going to try. Many great singers have some sort of halo to their voices. In other words, the center of the sound is the note they want to hit, but if you looked at it with a spectrum analyzer, the wave-form would be fatter, touching other notes around the one they’re singing.

Other’s have a laser-like quality, which will have the clarity I noted, but can also sound shrill, even painful at times. Rosi’s voice is just right. On most songs, there’s a sweetness to the voice, even if the lyrics are ripping your heart out at the same time. In fact, she joked that she was surprised to see some people dancing in the back of Bowery Ballroom, since most of her songs cause people to cry or hold hands. Smile

The set was great. Most of the songs were from the new CD. Rosi was kind enough to throw in a couple from The Drifter and the Gypsy, most notably Think of Me, which I could listen to all day, every day. Here’s the set list:

SetList

Rosi has a regular accompanist, Jake Phillips, who performs with her (at every show?) for the past 4.5 years. He’s an excellent guitarist, and has a really good voice. Most of the time he sings harmony with Rosi, but occasionally, he’ll sing lead on a verse. I think he sang one of the verses on Hazy (the other song from The Drifter and the Gypsy). On the CD, Rosi sang with William Fitzsimmons (that reference was for you, Kevin). Winking smile

JakePhillips

Jake has a show of his own at 7pm tonight at Rockwood Music Hall. I’m not in NYC, so I can’t attend, and if you’re reading this, you probably can’t either, since I’m posting this a day too late (my next post will reveal why this one is late).

I bought Lead Balloon at the show, between Ian Axel and Rosi’s sets. I’ve listened to it twice so far and I really like it a lot. I’m sure I’ll grow to love it in a few more listens. There are a number of songs that grabbed me instantly, but none more than Fly Away. It’s my Think of Me from this CD.

Rosi was accompanied by a full band, but she also had a special guest star on many of her numbers (I’d guess more than 1/2).

Allie Moss is a headliner in her own right, in addition to being a member of Ingrid Michaelson’s band (singing harmony and playing guitar). On Rosi’s set, she sang harmony so beautifully.

AllieMossTonyMaceliAllieMoss

Rosi closed the show by bringing up another special guest. If you read the paragraph above and substitute the name Bess Rogers for Allie Moss, it would all be 100% accurate!

Rosi asked the crowd to scrunch up closer to the stage and to be as quiet as they (we) could be. She unplugged her acoustic guitar and Rosi, Bess and Allie sang with no microphones. They performed Can’t Go Back. We were lucky enough to be right up against the stage (where you’ll always find us if we can secure that spot) so it felt like the three of them were singing just for us.

RosiGolanBessRogersAlllieMossSinging

Wow is an inadequate word to describe what an amazing job these ladies did. Oh yeah, the song is really beautiful as well, and it’s on Lead Balloon.

The band, left-to-right on the stage:

Daniel Mintseris on electronic keyboards. Excellent job throughout the set. In a silly small-world story, I haven’t been that active on Google+ yet, but I’ve been slowly accumulating people into various circles. The morning of the show (Tuesday), I put Daniel in my Musicians circle and he added me back (so at least he has a Google+ account). I didn’t know I’d be seeing Daniel perform that night! Smile

DanielMintseris

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Elliot is simply awesome, always. I’ve described him before as having a reputation as a hitter (he strikes the drums hard!). I’ve also said that it’s not true, when it’s not called for. On most of Rosi’s numbers, it wasn’t called for. Sure enough, Elliot was amazing, subtle when he needed to be, upbeat when appropriate, etc.

ElliotJacobson

Tony Maceli on electric and upright bass. Consistently one of my favorite bass players, including this show. Tony split the bass duties nearly evenly between the electric and the upright, nailing the bass lines on both. On the upright, he mostly plucked, but at least in one song I noticed him switching to the bow, then back to plucking. He’s a bit more understated (by choice) than other bass players on the scene, but the sounds he produces are the correct ones.

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A great finish to an already great night. The Spring Standards opened the show, with Ian Axel performing after them. Let’s pick a date and do it all again real soon.

For the entire night we stood next to Casey Hicks, a writer for Short and Sweet NYC. She had just posted an interview with Rosi Golan that day, conducted over the weekend.

CaseyHicks

Here’s the Kevin, mentioned above:

KevinHadarChris

Ian Axel at Bowery Ballroom

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Continuing with the pattern started in my last post about The Spring Standards, I am separating this one out from the other two sets at last night’s Bowery Ballroom show.

Ian Axel co-headlined Bowery Ballroom on May 24th, 2011 with The Spring Standards. Last night he co-headlined with Rosi Golan.

IanAxelPluggingIn

Since that night, we’ve only seen Ian perform with a full band once, when he opened for Five for Fighting. In fact, that show wasn’t quite a full band either. They played without a guitar and they had a substitute drummer, Zach Jones (who was absolutely incredible). We’ve seen Ian perform with Chad Vaccarino quite a number of times in between (so don’t worry about how we held up in the interim), including an extraordinary show at The Beacon Theatre.

There was still one change in the band, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Ian performed an exceptional set, which included three unrecorded songs, one of which we had never heard before (I’m not sure they’ve ever performed it at a show). The wide range of styles showed off Ian’s (and Chad’s) song-writing and performing capabilities (they’re most certainly not stuck in a single genre). The different styles were interspersed, so there wasn’t a “rock portion”, followed by an “acoustic portion”, followed by a “pop portion”, etc. That kept things very fresh.

IanAxelSinging

Two of the unrecorded songs are now well-known by Ian’s fans (everyone around me was singing out loud to both): Rockstar and Gold Digger. The new one is called Amory (though I admit to hearing it as Anne Marie). We had to look it up, Amory implies Heaven, or the epitome of the perfect American City. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense. But, it also worked in real-time when I thought it was a woman’s name. Winking smile

Amory was performed acoustically, with three-part harmony, and was simply gorgeous.

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Before we get to the band, there was a very special guest on one number.

Allie Moss came out to sing on Shorty Don’t Wait. In addition to singing three-part harmony with Chad and Ian, Allie sang a verse on lead, switching places with Chad to stand between the boys. Absolutely incredible.

ChadVaccarinoAllieMossIanAxelAllieMossChadVaccarinoIanAxelAdamChristgauIanAxelUkulele

For the one person out there that doesn’t know, Chad Vaccarino is Ian’s primary writing partner. They produce nothing short of magic together. They also sing a number of their songs together, alternating leads and harmonizing together (beautifully). In addition to singing, Chad plays electronic keyboards (adding an organ flavor to Ian’s piano sound) and trumpet.

ChadVaccarinoC

The band, left-to-right on the stage:

Andy Stack on electric guitar. This was the one change to the band last night. Previously, Chris Kuffner was the lead guitarist for Ian’s band. Recently, Chris has gotten very busy producing and his performing has had to take a back seat. I have no idea whether his withdrawal from Ian’s band is permanent, but I’m guessing that for the time being, that’s the case.

AndyStack

We’ve seen Andy Stack once before, when he played electric guitar with Greg Mayo. It was only two songs, but Andy impressed instantly. He’s brand new to Ian’s band (likely getting only one rehearsal in) and I have no idea whether the intention is for him to join the band on an ongoing basis.

That said, they worked hard to integrate the electric guitar into the music more that at any show I’ve been at (I’ve mentioned a number of times how unimportant the guitar has been). On most songs, that effort paid off. Andy is more than capable, but the real key was finding the right spots to highlight the guitar.

On one or two songs (Gone, the opener, in particular), the arrangement needs work (IMO). Since it was the first song, I was nervous that Andy wouldn’t blend well the entire set. Thankfully, I was way wrong. I’m looking forward to more of Andy in Ian’s band.

Adam Christgau on drums, acoustic guitar and vocals. We haven’t seen Adam play with Ian since May. He missed the CT show because he was touring with Sia, playing a string of sold-out shows in large venues (poor baby). He also got to listen to Ximena open for Sia every night (making him a lot luckier than most of us!).

AdamChristgau

Hearing Adam crush the drums on an Ian set is no surprise (but always a pleasure). Adam had an additional surprise for us. I’ve seen him tweet that he plays electric bass on occasion at Slane, where Martin Rivas holds Campfire shows. I never heard him mention anything about guitar. (That’s a white lie, I think he mentioned once on Twitter that he was playing some Dylan on acoustic guitar in his room.)

Last night, Adam played acoustic guitar on two numbers. First on Shorty, taking 1/2 of Mike Campbell’s role (Allie took the other 1/2, the singing part). Poor Mike Campbell was suffering on a beach in Aruba. I’m sure he would have preferred to be at Bowery Ballroom, if only he had a choice. Winking smile

AdamChristgauAcousticGuitar

On Amory, not only did Adam play the guitar (very nicely), but he also sang a bunch, completing the three-part harmony with Ian and Chad. This will add a new dimension to Ian and Chad’s sound if they start making more use of Adam this way. Bravo!

Chris Anderson on electric bass and background vocals. Chris was fantastic, as always. He also led the clapping on Leave Me Alone. Hearing that song in NYC is so different than anywhere else. In NYC, such a large proportion of the crowd knows the cool clapping part (and has Chris to make sure they know when to do it, not that we don’t). In other places, there are a few lonely clappers who typically give up quickly.

ChrisAnderson

Chris was also instrumental in the sing-a-long portion of Girl I Got a Thing.

Speaking of Girl I Got a Thing, when they play it in NYC, you never know what to expect. When Ian introduced the song, he said that he himself wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

Leiv Parton came out dressed like one of the Men in Black, sporting a tambourine and a drink. As the song built up, Chocky came out (as he usually does) and conked Leiv on the head with a bottle that shattered all over the stage. Leiv spent the remainder of the song sprawled out (lifelessly) on the stage. He was dragged off (with difficulty) after the song was over.

LeivPartonManInBlackManDown

At the last Bowery Ballroom show, Chocky was dressed in sweats. This time, he was a full-on cowboy gear. When he finished his whiskey, another Man in Black came out (sorry, I don’t know who it was) and he handed Chocky a replacement whiskey, then stood robotically for the remainder of the song.

ChockyChockyManInBlackChrisAnderson

It added a visual flair to a fantastic song. I shudder to imagine how they intend to top it next time!

After the show, we had to force Leiv to take a photo with me, to prove that he survived the on-stage attack. Winking smile

LeivPartonHadar

After playing their signature This is the New Year (killing it), everyone but Ian left the stage. Ian played Say Something, on the keyboards (he sometimes performs it on the ukulele). It was incredible, bringing a real hush to the large crowd. Great way to end the set.

Here’s the set list:

Gone
Leave Me Alone!!!!!!!!
Waltz
Rockstar
You’ll Be Okay
Shorty (acoustic w/ Adam)
Amory (acoustic w/ Adam)
Gold Digger
Girl I Got a Thing
This Is The New Year
Say Something (acoustic)

We shared this evening with a lot of friends. Here are but a few of them:

AxelsAndersonsElyseTerryHadar

RebeccaHavilandHadarAdiraRachel

ChadVaccarinoIanAxelHadar

The Spring Standards at Bowery Ballroom

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Last night was the fourth time we’ve seen The Spring Standards (third time for a full set). I’ve enjoyed all of them, but for me, last night was the best. That’s one of the reasons I chose to split last night’s show into three separate posts. Each act was so good that they deserve not be to buried under another.

If you want an hour’s worth of reading, you can check out my last post about them, which also took place at Bowery Ballroom and also included a set by Ian Axel (the next post after this one). I’ll repeat my first paragraph from that post (for the lazy among you). Winking smile

The Spring Standards were co-billed with Ian and appeared right before him. There’s something very fresh about The Spring Standards that isn’t just about their excellent music. They are inventive, passionate, talented people who blend together really well. It’s near impossible not to get sucked into their energy (not that I noticed anyone in the crowd trying to avoid being pulled in!).

I feel like repeating 90% of the last post (I won’t). I will repeat the highlights (about the band, not this particular show):

  • All three sing lead, beautifully
  • All three sing harmony, with their voices blending perfectly
  • All three are very good on all of their instruments (all are multi-instrumentalists, at times too many to count)
  • Noah Goldman matches their energy and musicianship
  • They write wide-ranging song-styles keeping it fresh throughout the set
  • They are excellent songwriters (lyrics as well as music)

Standing left-to-right on stage (for the most part):

James Cleare on acoustic and electric guitars, drums, electric bass, vocals. Excellent on everything.

JamesClearePassionateSingingJamesCleareAcousticGuitarJamesCleareElectricGuitar

Heather Robb on electronic keyboards, drums, percussion, glockenspiel and vocals. She is a bundle of energy and sings more of the leads than the boys do. I am reasonably sure that she was sick when we saw them at Webster Hall, and on occasion her voice was strained the last time we saw them. Her voice last night was great, largely the reason for me saying this was their best set yet.

HeatherRobbKeyboardsHeatherRobbSetupHeatherRobbSinging

James Smith (no good link) on acoustic guitar, electric bass, drums, trumpet and vocals. Like the other James, this one was excellent on everything he played and sang. He and Cleare switch places a few times. On one of the switches, when Smith was on the left side of the stage, he sang lead on a hillbilly country style song. So much energy, so much fun. He seemed to be having a blast with it. I certainly was!

JamesSmithSinging

On the song that James played trumpet, Heather announced that he borrowed it from Chad Vaccarino (who played it in the next set). Of course, in addition to playing trumpet, James played the drums throughout and sang whenever the trumpet wasn’t at his lips. Awesome.

JamesSmithTrumpet

Noah Goldman stands, sits and runs around behind the three members of The Spring Standards. He played pedal steel guitar, electric guitar, electric bass and drums. He too was excellent on everything. I believe he played on all but one song (possibly two).

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If you’ve read my previous posts on The Spring Standards, then you know that I always felt they were special, but somehow, didn’t fulfill that promise in those shows (for reasons I hope I articulated specifically). Last night they delivered. What a delight!

I mentioned above that they write good lyrics. I want to share one example. When they sang Unravel Unwind, I was struck by the chorus, lyrically and their powerful delivery. The imagery is amazing:

Say it
Say the words I see behind your eyes
If it’s not hard to say
Then it’s a lie
I know you think we can not heal
But we can try

If you have Spotify, you can listen to it. Search for Unravel Unwind. Currently, that returns two items, with The Spring Standards first. The song was delivered with way more power live than on the CD version, but the recorded version is still great and will give you a sense of what I mean.

As I was leaving after the show was over, I bumped into Ian Axel. Unprompted, he said: Can you believe how amazing The Spring Standards were? Did you catch “Say the words I see behind your eyes, If it’s not hard to say, Then it’s a lie”. Ha, he was struck by the exact same words and delivery that I was.

In addition to playing their hits (people around me were singing along to nearly every song), they broke out some new ones that will be on their upcoming CD (they’re working on it). The new songs were excellent, so their creativity continues to flow. Here is last night’s set list:

SetList

Ximena Sarinana at LAMC at Bowery Ballroom

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We only recently discovered Ximena Sarinana, having seen her perform for the first time on May 31st, 2011. You can read my post on that show. Two nights ago we got the tiniest taste when Ximena sang some harmony with Alex Wong during his show.

The Latin Alternative Music Conference is in town this week. As part of the conference, there is a giant Showcase (essentially, a festival) spread over a couple of nights at Bowery Ballroom. Ximena was scheduled to play last night (or more accurately, very early this morning) at 12:15am.

XimenaKeyboards

If you read my post about our first experience, then you know we wouldn’t have missed a chance to see her again. We had plans earlier in the evening, but in a lucky break, we had nothing scheduled after midnight! (other than sleep, that is…) Winking smile

We arrived at Bowery Ballroom at 11:45pm and parked ourselves very close to center stage. We arrived between acts, so there was just general socializing going on. A few minutes later the act before Ximena took the stage. A top Venezuelan based Hip-Hop group. Six people performing the singing and dancing and a DJ (part of the group) in the back left of the stage.

While Hip-Hop isn’t my thing, and seeing it performed in a language I don’t understand isn’t likely to change that, I was still completely fascinated by how much energy and effort goes into such a performance. I can’t imagine how much rehearsal time it takes to make it look as smooth as it does. Of course, the crowd was wild for them.

Ximena started setting up on stage at roughly 12:20am. While I don’t speak Spanish, I would guess that while she was plugging in all of her electronics, she received at least 14 marriage proposals from the guys standing all around me. Most of those guys were with their wives/girlfriends. I’m betting those women understood (if not supported) the guys in their quest to marry Ximena. Winking smile

XimenaPluggingIn

The set started closer to 12:40am. The character was dramatically different than the Rockwood show, immediately. For starters, Ximena stood and played electronic keyboards. At Rockwood, grand piano and sitting (until the a cappella encore). There was an additional band member (electric guitar) and Alex Wong was on a monster drum kit. Of course, the biggest difference was the venue.

AlexWongDrumKit

Bowery Ballroom is large. The audience stands throughout the show (except for some seats in the balcony). It’s way louder than Rockwood. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Ximena is up to any task and the change in venue was right up her alley as well. She harnessed the crowd’s energy by dancing while she was singing and playing the keyboards, amping them (us) even further.

Ximena’s first full-length CD was released in Mexico, in Spanish. It’s a huge seller. Given my reaction to every song she sang in Spanish at the first show, I have no doubt why that is the case. Having recently moved to the US, she is about to release a second CD, this time in English, on August 2nd.

She opened the show with Shine Down, in English, off the upcoming CD. It’s super-charged power Pop/Rock. She followed that with Echo Park, also in English. A few people around me started calling out to her to sing in Spanish. That was completely understandable, given that this was LAMC and a predominantly Hispanic crowd.

She obliged, immediately, but I have a strong sense that this was her predefined set list anyway! She played a song I instantly fell in love with at Rockwood, Normal, off her original CD. Everyone around us sang every word with her, out loud.

At the end of Normal (at least I’m pretty sure it was Normal), Ximena turned on her loop for her voice. If you’ve still resisted reading my last post about her, but want to really understand what I mean about looping her voice, go back and read that now. Each track in the loop last night was incredibly complex, beautiful and powerful.

I know it isn’t possible, but here are six shots of her singing, each one taken during a different vocal acrobatic act. You can see her facial expressions and mouth formations are radically different as she’s singing something to layer in the current loop.

XimenaSingingLoop1XimenaSingingLoop2

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She returned to English for the next song, Love Again.

Ximena dismissed the band for her last number. She played the title track off her original CD, Mediocre, solo. When she introduced the song, the crowd was feverish, knowing what was coming. With a microphone and electronic keyboards and no other support, she blew away a crowd of hundreds of people, most of whom had been standing for over four hours already.

XimenaSolo

Her voice and skills at live performances are that good. Again, the crowd sang every word with her. They were good (hitting the notes as far as I could tell), but this song builds, and Ximena pours some amazing power into it, so she was always easily recognizable above the audience’s singing.

Pete Lalish on electric guitar. For much of the set it sounded like Pete was playing bass. In retrospect, I’m thinking that some of that might have been coming from Ximena’s keyboards, because Pete’s hands/fingers weren’t moving the way they should have to produce what I was hearing. Basically, it was a little tough for me to pick out his specific sound.

PeteLalishTuningPeteLalishGuitar

Alex Wong on drums and electronic keyboards. Alex had a rock star drum kit setup, high up on stage. The only thing missing was a glass enclosure to make him feel completely unapproachable. Given the power Pop/Rock nature of the English songs, Alex’s arms were flying at really high speeds, mostly on the snare, high-hat and one other cymbal. Of course, he was masterful with the kick drum. I didn’t see him make too much use of the remainder of the drum kit.

AlexWongRaisedDrumPlatform

On at least one song, he played keyboards, which he had laid out to his right on top of one of the larger drums. On another song he also had a drum machine going for the underlying beat, and he powered through more tasty drum parts above and around that beat.

AlexWongKeyboardsXimena

Here’s a more artistic shot of Alex, with the trails of the drumstick (recall how fast I said he was) creating an interesting look across his face.

AlexWongDrumstick

If you are a New Yorker and want to check out my claims, you have two chances later this month, when Ximena opens for Sia at Webster Hall on July 26th and 27th. Get your tickets now. We’ll be there on the 26th. Smile

The energy created by Ximena, the Hip-Hop group and the crowd, easily sustained us way beyond our typical bedtime. We got home around 1:30am and were asleep by 2. Nothing normal or mediocre (yes, a closing pun on two of Ximena’s more awesome songs) about the evening. Smile

Ian Axel, The Spring Standards and Madi Diaz at Bowery Ballroom

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I tell everyone I meet that Ian Axel is magical. Since I don’t distinguish between people I’ve already told it to and newcomers to this fact, I am not surprised when people start running away as I approach. Winking smile

Until now, it has seemed subjective, but I finally have proof, to convince all of the skeptics. It was supposed to thunderstorm in NYC last night. It didn’t (Ian had a show headlining the Bowery Ballroom, so it would have been inconvenient for his fans if it had stormed). I see you shaking your heads in disbelief. Mere coincidence or luck (you say). Wrong!

As of yesterday afternoon, rain was predicted every single day (but one) for the next week+ (I know, my doorman showed me the weather on his iPhone!). Check the NYC weather today, and more importantly, the forecast for the next seven days. Only one day of possible rain (a complete reversal). First 80+ degree days as well.

All it took was getting Ian Axel to perform in NYC, with a full band (well, specifically his full band), and the weather is now perfect. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is! Smile

IanAxelSinging

It’s been 97 days since we’ve seen Ian with his band. We’ve seen Ian and Chad Vaccarino performing together three times in between, as recently as 16 days ago, so don’t worry about any deep withdrawal. Ian’s solo shows and his performances with Chad are magical as well. That said, even though the set lists are often the same, the experiences are dramatically different (both great in their own way).

I have a few nits to pick as well (not about any of the music last night), but you’ll have to read nearly to the bottom if you are interested (no cheating and skipping ahead!).

You can spend an entire day on this site reading everything I’ve written about Ian in the past. I won’t repeat too much of it here.

In addition to playing a more typical (fantastic) Ian Axel set, there were a reasonable number of surprises. At the top of the list was the debut of two new songs: Rockstar and Golddigger (perhaps it’s two words). We’ve seen them performed once before at North Star Bar in Philly, but this was the fist time they were ever played live with a full band. I’ll wager a few dollars that there are still a few audience members who haven’t yet recovered from having their minds blown. At least we had a bit of warning from the duo show. Smile

Pacific Sun was performed very differently. All five band members were clustered together. Chris Kuffner created an organ-like sound on his electric guitar (adding a cool/eerie flavor to the song) and all five sang the chorus together. Excellent.

IanAxelChadVaccarinoAdamChristgauChrisAndersonChrisKuffnerPacificSun

Since I mentioned Chris Kuffner above, let me mention each band member briefly before continuing with the surprises.

Chad Vaccarino was tucked away in the far left-hand corner of the stage. He had a double-decker electronic keyboard setup and was mostly creating organ sounds to complement Ian’s piano sounds. He broke out the trumpet for Hangman and one or two others, to great effect.

ChadVaccarinoSinging

Adam Christgau on drums. We used to see Adam play with various bands (including Ian’s) a couple of times a week. We were quickly spoiled and expected to see him as often going forward, and have other drummers live up to his standard. Then all of sudden, poof, Adam started traveling more and for longer periods, so we don’t get to see him as often. I savor ever single strike of his sticks whenever I can.

AdamChristgauDrums

Last night was no exception, but it wasn’t a robotic reproduction of his previous play either. His fills during the epic This is the New Year varied quite a bit, at some critical moments. I enjoyed it, but my ears were expecting the fills I’ve come to love and it caught me by surprise. For those that are curious, the changes were to a more understated drum pattern, less focus on Adam. Nice, but bring back the more dramatic version, please.

AdamChristgau

Chris Anderson on electric bass. I seem to write about Chris a lot as well, since he plays with a number of bands that we can’t get enough of (I wonder if Chris deserves any credit for that?). Winking smile He was wonderful last night as well. Later, in the nit-picking section, I’ll have a bit more to say (very positive) about the difference between Chris’ play last night and the bassists who were on stage before him.

ChrisAnderson

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar. Chris was great as he always is. In addition to the organ effects mentioned above, he also effectively used the slide. But, his best work last night was actually in the set before, so I’ll save that for a bit and describe it where it belongs.

ChrisKuffnerSlideGuitar

Now that the core band has received its due, I can continue with the surprises, which largely involved guests (but not entirely).

Ian brought out Dan Romer, who played accordion on a couple of numbers. Dan produced Ian’s CD (This is the New Year) with the exception of the title song (he is credited with producing the piano track on that song as well). Dan is an icon in the NY music scene (on many levels). Having him on stage is more of a huge Thank You from Ian than a necessary addition to the sound.

DanRomerAccordion

If you’ve been to Ian’s NYC shows in the past, you know exactly what happens when he plays Girl I Got a Thing. It happened last night too, but with some twists. Normally, when Ian starts the song, Glenn Chocky climbs on stage and does his thing (read any of my other NYC-based Ian posts to know what that thing is).

Last night, Ian actually called Chocky up before starting the song. Obviously, we knew what song was about to be played, but clearly there was going to be a twist. First, Chocky came out in a red sweatsuit (track suit). Next, he was carrying a gym bag which he laid on the stage. Third, instead of his signature bourbon in a glass, he had two of them, in plastic cups.

ChockyTrackSuit

Chocky had a surprise in the gym bag. When it came close to the time to shake my tambourine, Chocky opened the bag and started tossing tambourines into the crowd. His timing wasn’t perfect as he got to his a beat or two later than he usually does. It still created a memorable moment. Hundreds of us joined Ian and the band in singing the “Na na na na, Whoah wo” part repeatedly as well.

That wasn’t the last surprise of the song though. Toward the end of the song a Blues Brother’s looking guy walked onto the stage carrying a gong held by a rope (he had white gloves on). He held it unwaveringly, center stage, as Chocky banged the hell out of it for the rest of the song. Smile

ChockyStrikingGong

Another surprise was an added twist to one of Ian’s standards, Waltz. Toward the end of the song they broke out their version of I Want You (She’s So Heavy), returning to finish it off with the end of Waltz.

Ian dismissed the band for one song, removed his glasses and played a perfect version of Say Something.

IanAxelSingingSaySomething

The rest of the surprises came during the encore. Of course there was an encore! I can’t do justice to describing the electricity in the very large crowd throughout the set. Surely, Ian wasn’t getting out of the building without coming back when the set was over.

He returned by himself and played You’ve Got a Friend in Me by Randy Newman. Ian joked (or perhaps he was serious) on Twitter about starting a Randy Newman cover band. Last night he started it off perfectly, without an actual band (or rather, he was a band of one!).

He called the band out when he was done and they performed You’ll Be OK. During the song, Dan Romer came out and shared the mic with Chad (who was center stage, leading the awesome vocal mayhem). A minute later, Chocky came out and eventually settled on Ian’s bench. He mimed the key phrases, pointing at the crowd (letting us know that We’ll Be OK). Thanks Chocky. Now we will be!

ChadVaccarinoDanRomerChockyIanAxel

I was pretty sure that would be the end (and what a high-note ending it would have been). But no, there’s more!

After Dan and Chocky left the stage, Mike Campbell appeared. Everyone knew exactly what song was about to be played. For those of you playing the home version, it was Shorty Don’t Wait. Smile

MikeCampbellIanAxelChadVaccarino

Mike picked up an acoustic guitar and Ian returned to the ukulele (that he played on Pacific Sun). Chad took the mic at center stage (he kicks off the song). It all started as amazingly as you could hope/expect. After the first verse, there’s a dramatic pause in the music as Chad launches into an incredible vocal beginning to verse #2. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

For the first time in my experience, Chad lost the words for a second. It turned into quite a funny moment as nearly everyone on stage broke down laughing (Chad most of all!). The audience ate it up as well. Chad wanted to pick it up exactly from that point, but Ian would have none of that. As if to punish Chad (I’m kidding), but more importantly to thrill the crowd with an extra verse, Ian insisted they start from the beginning. Thanks Ian, that was the correct call! Smile

From the second Ian walked onto the stage, until the second he walked off, the people all around me (we were right up at the stage) were in a state of rapture (that’s an honest description, and my one and only homage to the numerous hilarious Twitter comments I enjoyed for the past two weeks).

The Spring Standards were co-billed with Ian and appeared right before him. There’s something very fresh about The Spring Standards that isn’t just about their excellent music. They are inventive, passionate, talented people who blend together really well. It’s near impossible not to get sucked into their energy (not that I noticed anyone in the crowd trying to avoid being pulled in!).

I don’t know their music so I won’t rattle off song names (like I can and do with Ian). I’ll attempt to describe what I meant in my adjectives above, but first, who are they? Left-to-right on the stage:

James Cleare on acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica, drums, electric bass and vocals (no doubt I left off a dozen other amazing things he did). He’s an excellent singer (more on that later) and a really good guitarist as well (leads on acoustic and electric were really well done).

JamesCleare

Heather Robb on electronic keyboards, drums, percussion, melodica and vocals. Heather is often the visual focal point of The Spring Standards both because she is the constant fixture center stage (the other two swap spots on the edges, often) and because she has enough energy to power the energizer bunny for decades. She sings many of the leads. She’s very impressive in every respect save one.

HeatherRobb

She puts so much power into everything she does, that while she hits every note, more than occasionally, her voice sounds strained. That might actually make her voice more appealing to some, because it’s different, but I’m used to hearing people with more control over their vocals and I notice the difference.

James Smith (I can’t find a good individual link) on electric bass, acoustic guitar, drums, vocals and likely others. Like James Cleare, James Smith has a very good voice and plays all of his instruments well.

JamesSmithGuitarDrumsSetup

Noah Goldman (also no good link) supported The Spring Standards on nearly every song, standing or sitting right behind them. He used to be their road manager (might still be). He played pedal steel, acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass and once or twice banged the daylights of some cymbals and a drum. He did a very nice job on everything, bringing a dancing energy that matches up well with the rest of the group.

NoahGoldman

So, aside from their music, what makes them so interesting?

They take a full drum set and split it apart, putting the various pieces in three separate areas on the stage. The kick drum and some other parts are on the right hand side (where James Smith spends most of his time, but James Cleare is there a reasonable amount as well). High hat cymbal and some other drum parts on the left. The rest of the kit is on either side of Heather, behind the keyboards, with some cymbals and a drum to the right of the keyboards (so that everyone, including Heather, can easily reach that, including Noah).

HeatherRobbKeyboardsDrumsSetup

It’s quite interesting to watch James Smith playing the electric bass and singing, while realizing that the perfectly timed kick drum is being operated by him at the same time. Similarly, watching James Cleare play guitar and harmonica while operating the high hat cymbal tells me that their brains operate more interestingly (if not efficiently) from mine.

Heather does a ton of drumming with sticks and brushes, all while weaving in very good keyboard play. It’s all a joy to watch.

The three of them sing extremely well together. I need to listen to their songs at home to learn them better so that I can enjoy that aspect of their show even half as much as the people around me. There were similar trances (in the most positive sense) on the faces around me as there were for Ian’s set. The other similarity is that everyone seemed to know every word to every song with the exception of the brand new ones (yes, The Spring Standards broke out new material, just like Ian did).

The Spring Standards are extremely well matched to play a show with Ian Axel (well done, whoever thought of pairing them!). So much so, that the next thing I describe was one of the highlights of the night (for me).

As you may know, musicians all over are celebrating Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. He has obviously inspired more singer/songwriters than most, so it’s natural for people to want to salute him, at the least.

The Spring Standards invited Ian and his band (including Dan Romer) on stage and they performed Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. Everyone sang the chorus simultaneously (all nine people on stage plus most of the audience). James Cleare sang most of the lead (Heather joined him on a couple of verses).

James did a fantastic job. He donned sunglasses, had the harmonica holder and played acoustic guitar. There were a few phrases that were extremely close-sounding to Dylan, without the typical over-the-top impersonations where someone’s trying to be more like Frank Caliendo doing Dylan than an honest singer songwriter becoming a little more Dylan-esque.

JamesCleareAsBobDylan

Toward the end of the song Chad Vaccarino came out of the wings, trumpet in hand, and took a simple, but perfect solo. That brought the stage total to 10.

ChadVaccarinoTrumpetIShallBeReleased

In the middle of the song, Chris Kuffner took an absolutely amazing lead. It had a single flaw in it, it was too short. That was a missed opportunity for whoever was running the song to turn to Chris (in amazement) and give him the signal that he simply had to take another turn on the lead guitar.

Anyway, it was so excellent, that when Ian’s band left the stage, Heather correctly joked that perhaps they should have considered closing their set with that number. Anything else might feel anti-climactic now. They played another two or three songs. While they didn’t necessarily have the drama of everyone on stage, there was really no letdown in the final numbers. When The Spring Standards left the stage, it was completely triumphant, with the crowd screaming their heads off.

Here is the set list from The Spring Standards:

SpringStandardsSetList

Madi Diaz opened the show with a full band. She sings (beautifully) and played both electric and acoustic guitar.

MadiDiaz

Madi just recently signed with the same label that Ian is signed with, tinyOGRE. As I type this, she still isn’t listed on their site, but I’m (reasonably) sure it will happen soon enough. Having her open for Ian and The Spring Standards was a good move to get her better recognition in NYC (she’s based in Nashville).

I was completely unaware of Madi’s music before last night. Many were upbeat catchy pop-style numbers, but there were slower ones to mix it up as well. Even the slower numbers had a deliberate beat which made them feel less folky.

Madi’s voice is excellent. She’s roughly 25-years-old. I would describe her voice as sweet (that’s not a negative, but is the only word I can think of to say that somehow, she sounds more like a 16 or 17-year-old who has an excellent voice, rather than someone whose voice sounds more mature, not necessarily better).

Given that she came onto the stage at 8:02pm (I really like that Bowery started the show on time!), the crowd was much thinner than it was later for The Spring Standards and Ian Axel. Even so, most of the people there knew every word to every Madi Diaz song. Her fans were very passionate, often making her smile (but never losing her composure) when they yelled silly things to her.

I’ll mention the band in my usual order, left-to-right on the stage. It has a bit more significance this time, because that’s also the order they contributed to the success of Madi’s set last night (in my opinion). I also have to apologize in advance if I got the drummer’s name wrong. Other than clearly hearing the first guy (and being unable to mistake him once you search, as you’ll see), Madi rattled off the other names in a nearly inaudible manner. I would swear she never even named the keyboard player (I’ll explain below why that’s important).

Kyle Ryan on guitar and vocals. It turns out that Kyle Ryan is actually the second half of Madi Diaz! Confused? Don’t be. In addition to having the name Madi Diaz, the group itself is actually called Madi Diaz as well (I didn’t know that until I looked her up), consisting of Madi (the person) and Kyle Ryan. They write together (much as Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino write together).

KyleRyan

Kyle plays the guitar really well and sings well too. It took a while to realize he sings well, mostly because it felt like he was whispering into his mic. Two guys standing behind me yelled a number of times to him that he should sing louder (that’s what I was thinking, but I’m too old to yell that out, much as I’d like to). Winking smile

Somehow, either they, or Kyle himself caught the attention of the sound guy, who turned up Kyle’s mic a bit (not enough to be at parity with Madi’s voice, but loud enough to tell that their harmony was nice and Kyle can sing).

Adam Popick on drums. Adam was never flashy, even when a song would have allowed it (let alone called for it). That said, my respect for him grew on every song. He was quite an integral part of the sound of each song. Keeping such an excellent and interesting beat, without ever being the focus of attention (except for mine, because I pay a lot of attention to drummers).

AdamPopick

I just looked up his touring schedule, and it seems he plays with some pretty big acts (and opens for a lot of even bigger ones). Clearly, Adam is a very talented musician (I think he plays bass as well, perhaps more often than drums, but I’m not sure).

Bass Player (electric). I just gave up trying to find his name, sorry, but I did work at it. He was fine, but very straight up, nothing that made me pay attention to him (other than a related topic in my nitpicking section).

MadiDiazBassPlayer

I have no idea who the keyboard player was. At the end of her set, Madi mentioned that her normal keyboard player quit 24 hours earlier. She was raving that this guy learned the material in under 24 hours and traveled to play with them. From the beginning of the set, I was thinking that he was barely noticeable (there were a few exceptions) and hardly integral to the sound. I am reasonably sure Madi never named him.

MadiDiazKeyboardPlayer

So, I’m not holding anything against him, or judging his skill. Clearly, he never got a chance to play with them. But, for my taste, Madi Diaz would have been fine with just Madi, Kyle and Adam.

Here is Madi’s set list:

MadiDiazSetList

All in all (even with the nitpicking section to follow immediately), it was one of the more amazing evenings of music in recent memory (and we’ve had many).

I need to put the nitpicking in context. There’s a difference in pointing out things that could stand (or even just benefit from) improvement, vs things that are awful (where the word improvement doesn’t really apply). It’s all a matter of context and relative degrees. Given how great the show was in general, these complaints fall under the category of “should be fixed”, not “ruined my experience”.

On the positive side, the guy who was running the stage (he sat in a booth way above the stage, deep in the left-hand side of the stage, was totally on top of every physical issue and he pounced on them immediately. Early on, he noticed that Adam Popick’s kick drum was sliding forward with each kick (I didn’t notice). He ran down the stairs from his booth, grabbed something like a sand bag from the side and placed it in front of the kick drum feet so that it stopped moving. Very impressive. He continued jumping on problems throughout the show in an efficient manner.

On the negative side, mic volumes weren’t handled as well, as smoothly, or as quickly. I already gave the example where the crowd needed to point out that Kyle was dramatically under-mic’ed. That continued throughout the show, all three sets. Mic’s were turned down when they weren’t in use (good, smart). When someone stepped up to them later on, it often took a full verse for the sound engineer to notice and get it to the correct level (sometimes, it never got correct, but at least became audible).

Chad Vaccarino was plagued by a number of mic mishaps, since he moves around on the stage a lot and switches mic’s. What a shame. He has one of the most special voices around (on a number of levels) and we were cheated out of the first few words more often than I care to remember.

That was a tolerable problem, because it didn’t last long and you were then lost in the vocals once they got it right.

The biggest problem, and I’m not sure where to lay the blame, was the general insane volume of the bass for much of the night.

I mentioned that the first bass player was very “straight up” (which is fine). What wasn’t fine was that he overwhelmed most of the other sounds nearly every time he played a note. This included full-on buzzing at times. Of course, the floor shook (a ton) with every note as well. If he were an extraordinary bassist, it still would have been wrong (even bad), but it might have been interesting as well, which it wasn’t.

I don’t know if it was the Bowery Ballroom sound guy, or the bass player himself cranking his amp and bass to unreasonable levels. I have no idea what it sounds like on the stage. Perhaps the monitor engineer had the levels better set so that it sounded good on stage, but horrible to the audience.

The Spring Standards share the electric bass duties. Both James’ and Noah play the bass at various times. None of them is fancy either (again, fine), with all three doing a nice job. Nice, with the exception that 80% of the time, their bass also overwhelmed the other instruments. One of the nicest songs The Spring Standards performed was when both James’ were on acoustic guitar. Everything was so clean and pleasant. A correctly leveled bass would not have detracted from any of the other songs.

I mentioned above that I would praise Chris Anderson down here. As far as bass playing goes, Chris was dramatically more interesting on every single bass line than the others, combined. But, what was more interesting (shocking) to me was that for the first half of Ian’s set, he was also at a much more reasonable volume (still quite loud, but no distortion).

Then, mysteriously, in the second half of the set, he too became too loud (while maintaining fantastic bass lines, so I was correct in stating above that if you’re going be too loud, you better be interesting as well!). Did Chris change something, or did the sound guy wake up and wonder why the bass wasn’t killing everyone in the front half of the room? We may never know…

Anyway, rather than ruining the show, all it did was make me think about things I shouldn’t have noticed. This was an awesome show that simply could have been much better.

I mentioned above that we’ve seen Ian and Chad three times in a row without the full band. One of those shows was at Jammin’ Java in VA. Another was in Philly. At each of those shows, we brought friends who had never seen them. In both cases our friends fell in love with them. One of our VA friends flew up just to catch this show. Our two Philly friends took the bus up. All three of them left early this morning to return to their normal lives. All three were thankful to have made the effort to soak in last night’s experience.

Before heading to the show, we had an awesome Mexican meal with our out-of-town guests. Note that the two of us on the ends are both proudly wearing our Ian Axel T-Shirts.

HadarOutOfTowners

When the show was first announced, we bought our tickets the day they were available online. I know for a fact that we bought the fourth and fifth tickets sold. At the show (actually in line before the doors opened) we saw Lindsie, who organized the amazing house concert that Ian and Chad performed at in VA. She showed me her ticket and it was #3 sold. Inside, we ended up standing with Lindsie and Alison (another Ian fan whose tweets I’ve seen many times). While I didn’t check Alison’s ticket, I’ll bet it was one of the first sold as well. It’s a badge of honor for a true fan to get tickets early and spend a long time anticipating the great night out!

HadarLindsie

We ran into so many friends at the show it was almost comical. Here are some photos of people that Lois forced to pose for the blog:

AmyRivardElyseShannonTerryElyse

LindsieAlisonMelissaTongJimSamTeichmanKelly

After the show was over, I found myself standing next to none other than Derek James (of Derek James and the Lovely Fools). We chatted for a bit about how absolutely incredible the show was. I made sure to tell Derek that we would be at his show next Wednesday, June 1st, 8pm, Rockwood 1. The original Lovely Fools (Roy Gurel and Assaf Spector), both of whom were away the last time we saw Derek, will be back this time.

If you’re in NYC next Wed, and don’t show up for this set, you have no idea what damage you’re doing to your immortal soul. Come, experience the outrageous fun that is a Derek James and the Lovely Fools set. You won’t regret it! Smile