Bryan Dunn

Bryan Dunn CD Release at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Bryan Dunn headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. It was his official CD Release show for Sweetheart of the Music Hall. Three weeks ago I did something I rarely do, I reviewed a CD. It happened to be Brian’s CD.

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Before you read another word about the show, go buy the CD (if you don’t trust me blindly, you can stream it at that link for free, but then buy it).

If you read my review, I hope you took two things from it:

  • Bryan is a masterful lyricist
  • He delivers unfooled-around-with rock

I’d like to add something that I didn’t really mention in the review (and should have!). Bryan has an excellent voice. I don’t know why, but last night I realized that it strikes me as extremely reminiscent of Paul McCartney (someone slap me if it reminds them more of John Lennon, but the point is that it brings me back to some of my earliest memories of loving The Beatles).

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(Off topic: Bryan’s previous CD, Vicious Waltz is also fantastic, I’ve enjoyed it many times, and am listening to it again now as I type!)

All of the above was totally evident last night. The rock was hard-charging and driving throughout. Even the zombies couldn’t resist a little hip swaying (something they typically have trouble doing). Reproducing the sound/feel of this CD on stage is no small feat, but Bryan, along with an incredible band (including a number of special guests) were more than up to the task.

Bryan played both electric and acoustic guitars and generally thrilled the crowd on vocals and mainly unfinished sentences in between songs.

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The set was absolutely fantastic, we were both still buzzing about it this morning. I’m going to cover each of the core band members first, then the special guests, then a summary of how we discovered Bryan to begin with.

But wait, one not-so-quick aside before doing what I just said I would do. Bryan opened the show with the title cut, Sweetheart of the Music Hall. If you followed my instructions above, and bought the CD before reading this, then you know that there’s a wonderful trumpet lead on that number.

Before playing the song, Bryan called out for Tony Maceli a few times (ending with: “Going once, going twice, gone…”) before starting the song. Someone called out from the audience to say that Tony just texted him to say he was almost there, but the song had just started.

Most of you know that when I write about Tony, it’s almost always about his amazing bass play (both electric and upright). But, if you are addicted to this space and read everything I write, then you know that I’ve also written a couple of times that he’s played the trumpet and even guitar.

Tony was supposed to play the trumpet on Sweetheart of the Music Hall. Obviously, he didn’t. Tony walked in right at the end of the second song, peeked at the set list on stage and noticed that he missed his song.

Do you want to know what my definition of class is? It’s Tony Maceli. Instead of sulking, he watched the entire set, applauded loudly for each number and performer, and put money in the tip jar when it came around (in fact, he was the first to toss money in).

TonyMaceli

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

Joe Brent on mandolin and acoustic guitar (perhaps more, but I was in a bad vantage point to see him for much of the set). Joe came up on the second number and played on all but one after that. Joe plays on the CD too, so it was great to hear that sound live as well. The mandolin is one of the reasons I said that some of the songs have a Country Rock tinge. Joe’s great (as I find myself repeating a lot lately) and I really enjoyed his play last night.

JoeBrentJoeBrentGuitar

On one number he sat at the electronic keyboards and I thought I was about to hear him on yet another instrument. But, I think he was just resting for a minute. Ah, just looked through Lois’ photos, and it does indeed looked like I missed Joe doing something on the keyboards!

JoeBrentKeyboards

Ah, no I see from the photos that Joe also played the banjo. Thank goodness Lois documented all of this for me!

JoeBrentBanjo

Wait, what’s this? A Guitolin? Manduitar? Who knows. It’s very cute though. Winking smile

ManduitarCloseup

Ryan Vaughn on percussion and drums. Ryan is always great and was at the top of his game last night. He was the primary percussionist last night. That included a floor tom and cymbals as part of his bag of tricks, so it was quite a full sound. In the middle of the set, he moved over the to the full drum kit and ripped it to pieces (that’s a good thing, he didn’t take a knife to the drum kit).

RyanVaughnPercussionRyanVaughnBodylessDjembe

Drew McKeon on drums and percussion. Drew was the primary drummer last night and he was fantastic (my first time seeing him). When Ryan switched to the drums, Drew took over Ryan’s percussion station and was just as good on that. The two of them created the driving beats that I mentioned above, forcing every cell in your body to want to shake it a baby (sorry, couldn’t resist another Beatles reference).

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I’ve written a number of times about wanting multiple drummers on stage at the same time (like The Allman Brothers Band perfects) and last night was a completely satisfactory version of that!

RyanVaughnDrewMcKeon

Jim McNamara on upright bass. This was our third time seeing Jim on bass (the first time was our first Bryan Dunn sighting) and he has impressed every time. I would like to see more of him, so I’ll have to see what I have to do to make that happen.

JimMcNamara

Jeremy Goldsmith on lead electric guitar and vocals. Like with Jim, this was our third time seeing Jeremy. While he was great both previous times, I have to say that neither showcased his skills like last night’s set did. A quick digression first.

JeremyGoldsmith

Bryan Dunn is quite the guitarist himself. In fact, half of the times that we’ve seen Bryan, were as the lead guitarist for Jeff Litman, where has been excellent each time. Whenever I see someone who is a great guitarist pick someone else to be the guitar player for them, I know I’m going to see someone special on the guitar, as the guy doing the picking clearly knows what sound he wants and who can deliver it.

JeremyGoldsmithGuitar

Back to Jeremy. Holy cow, he was great on every number, but on a few he let loose with leads that were faster than greased lightning, but still clear as a bell and smooth. I was surprised that my ears could keep up with his fingers.

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Jeremy sang quite a big of background vocals, extremely well, including three-part harmony with the guests. He was already firmly on my list of people to see whenever I could, but he jumped up a few spots last night. Smile

JimMcNamaraJeremyGoldsmith

Now the special guests, in the order they appeared (song-wise, not position on stage):

Misty Boyce played keyboards on two numbers, including opening the show on Sweetheart of the Music Hall. I don’t know her own music at all, but I’m a huge fan from the previous guest appearances I’ve seen (most recently, at Tony Maceli’s Full Vinyl show). I’m going to do whatever is in my power to correct my lack of knowledge of her own music next Sunday night, 4/15, when she has a set at Rockwood 1 at 10pm. She’s part of a set tonight at 8pm, but I don’t believe I will be there, nor do I know if that’s her music either.

MistyBoyce

Abby Ahmad sang with Bryan on at least three numbers. I’ve been writing about Abby a lot recently. She’s a great singer and songwriter as well (fronting at least two bands that I’m aware of). She has the power to keep up with last night’s sound and was well matched with Bryan. For all the times that I’ve written about her, I hadn’t met her until Lois introduced herself last night and then grabbed me to say hi too. Smile

AbbyAhmadBryanDunnAbbyAhmadSinging

Andy Mac on vocals and tambourine. Andy did a great job of singing harmony with Bryan on one number, then was invited back for the finale with lots of others. Ryan Vaughn handed Andy a tambourine to keep him amused. He did a wonderful job of keeping us entertained on it as well.

AndyMacAndyMacTambourine

Chris Cubeta joined to play the harmonium on one number (I told you this was straight up rock, right? so of course there had to be a harmonium Winking smile ). Chris produced this CD, which I’ve already told you is a masterpiece. I’ve only seen Chris perform once before, also at Tony’s Full Vinyl show.

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Mark Marshall joined for the finale, grabbing Bryan’s electric guitar, while Bryan played the acoustic. I’ve mentioned a number of times how good Mark is on the electric. Last night, right after Jeremy totally blew my mind (for the final time, during the finale), Mark took an awesome lead as well. Considering that was on someone else’s guitar, it was all the more impressive.

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DJ Brik Mason joined for the last number as well. He sang harmony in the beginning, but then Bryan turned it over to Brik for a full-on rap. After rapping, he urged the crowd on after each verse, in a rap-like bridge. It fit in perfectly with the song and kept the energy way up for an already high-energy show.

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BrikMasonUrgingCrowdBrikMasonBryanDunnDrewMcKeonMarkMarshallAndyMac

One more shot of the finale:

AbbyAhmadJimMcNamaraJeremyGoldsmithChrisCubeta

Well, the finale wasn’t the final song, of course, Bryan had to take an encore. The previously mentioned people left the stage, but Misty returned to the keyboards to help Bryan close out the show, along with the core band.

To repeat, the CD is great, the show delivered that feeling better than we could have expected. What a night.

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Unfortunately for you, if you’re one of those people who have to read all the way to the end, this post isn’t quite over yet.

Lois and I have a huge overlap in the music we love, but we also have tastes that diverge. For most people/groups, one of us is typically a bigger fan (sometimes very slightly). In Bryan’s case, we’re equally fanatic. As I’ve mentioned in two previous posts, Lois listened to the new CD before I did, and was bugging me by calling out lyrics non-stop while I was blogging about Jesse Terry’s show (which was where we bought the CD from Bryan).

She chided me for not including one particular lyric in my CD review. Thankfully, I can appease her now by inserting it here. When she listened to 6 Black Horses (probably her favorite song on the CD), she quoted from the song:

The poet and the pauper, it’s all the same to him
Spend hours in the raging while the lights are growing dim

Lois was struck by the ode to Dylan Thomas. There’s also a reference to The Parting Glass in that song. So struck, that she reached out to Bryan to ask if it was purposeful. It was indeed!

Circling back to the beginning. I’ve mentioned many times that we often serendipitously discover someone because we show up to an earlier set in order to grab a seat, or catch a set between two that we came out for.

Such was the case two years and two weeks ago, when we came early and caught Bryan doing a full set. We were both really impressed. Since then we’ve seen Bryan do a few of his own songs here and there, at a Backscratch and at a few benefits, but mostly, we’ve seen him support Jeff Litman.

Amazingly, it took two years to see him play a full set again. At least the wait was more than worth it!

And, the obligatory (in the best sense!) photos of people we shared the spirit with:

MalloryChrisKellyTonyMaceliTerry

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SamTeichman

Bryan Dunn Sweetheart of the Music Hall

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Bryan Dunn is releasing a new CD on April 6th, 2012. He’s performing a CD Release Show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 at 7pm. I’ll be there, you should be too.

It’s rare that I review CDs (before or after they are released). Mostly because I’m not a trained music critic/theoretician, nor a musician either. When I read reviews, they’re usually covering things I wouldn’t think to say, nor would I necessarily feel comfortable saying them even if I thought of it. Winking smile

So why bother reviewing this as-yet-unreleased CD? Because it’s worth it! Last Thursday we saw Jesse Terry play a show at Rockwood. Bryan happened to be in the audience and happened to bring a CD to give to Jesse. When Lois asked him whether he had some more on him, he did one and we bought it.

The last two lines of the post about Jesse’s show were:

Lois already listened to the CD and was blown away. I’ll be getting to it over the weekend.

Now that I’ve listened to it five times, I concur. End of review. Winking smile

Well, perhaps I could be coaxed to say a few more words…

The overall umbrella genre/feel of the CD is straight up Rock. By that, I mean no artificial DJ-like sounds to show off techno-wizardry, just excellent musicians making music.

That said, there is quite a variety of rock styles across the songs, including Classic Rock, Country Rock, Jazz/Swing Rock and perhaps a hint of Bluesy Rock thrown in to fool you. A couple of the songs could easily be in America’s Country Countdown, in my opinion.

All of that is actually secondary though, seriously. What separates Bryan from the pack are his (apparently) effortless lyrical masterpieces (song after song).

The lyrics are simultaneously sophisticated and simple. Huh? What I really mean are they are sophisticated but simultaneously accessible. Big words aren’t used to impress (and force us to look them up), they’re words that are more unexpected that paint a vivid image.

Since Lois and I are drawn to great lyricists, we know a lot of them. One problem that occasionally arises is that the songwriter will fall in love with a phrase, but can’t quite fit it in smoothly with the current melody and beat. The truly greats rework one or the other to make everything feel so natural that you wonder what came first, the lyrics or music. It’s like a marriage made in heaven.

If you couldn’t tell from the above paragraph, Bryan is in the latter category. The lyrics are so perfectly intertwined with the music that you can easily listen to every word while still getting completely lost in the music. Nothing jars you out of the trance with a phrasing that clearly doesn’t fit, no matter how clever it is.

I hesitate to pull out any specific lyrics. First, songs are contextual. Second, as specifically noted above, these lyrics are delivered married to the music (not that they aren’t also poetic in the stand-alone sense). Still, I’ll do it (under protest). This is the last verse in the song 3 Years On:

I have murdered minutes
But still there’s so much precious time to kill
The boy that she left waiting
I do believe he’s waiting for her still
I wrote her a letter on a stone
I don’t think I’m ever coming home

I’ve murdered minutes too…

One of the advantages of buying a physical CD is getting the liner notes (when an artist bothers to include them). We have all of the lyrics written out and Lois listened over and over with the lyrics in her hands and she continued to interrupt me while I was writing about Jesse, to tell me this line or that line that kept getting to her. Now I understand.

I’ll wrap up by saying that this CD was produced by Chris Cubeta. I only saw Chris perform for the first time last Wed night, but I’ve heard about what a great producer he is for a while (specifically with regard to the upcoming The Vanity Belles CD), and now I hear his work first hand.

For example, on Marlene, which has a lot of Swing elements to it, the use of the clarinet (Hideaki Aomori) fits perfectly. On other numbers he employs a trumpet or accordion (Michael Leonhart and JP Schlegelmilch respectively).

OK, I’m drifting into the territory that makes me uncomfortable, so I’ll just stop here. Come to Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 at 7pm on April 6th and judge for yourself. Bryan will have physical CDs for sale there, so you can then experience what we’ve been enjoying for the past five days! Smile

A Holiday Benefit #5 at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Last week I scanned the Rockwood Music Hall website for this week’s shows. There was a show listed for last night simply labeled: “A Holiday Benefit”. The performers were a mixture of our favorite who’s who, plus a couple of groups we have wanted to see for a while, but scheduling has gotten in the way.

I snagged two tickets and excitedly waited for the week to pass. It turns out that this was the fifth (and unfortunately last) installment of this particular annual Holiday Benefit. It is organized by Benjamin Wagner (with some others who helped co-found it). The money raised is for 826NYC. Great cause, great people involved in raising the money and great musicians all around.

Bottom line: my expectations were very high. I was blown away beyond those expectations on two levels: most of the people we know brought their A+ games and we discovered some people that became instant favorites!

There were 16 acts (individuals and groups), some accompanied by a house band. Each act performed two numbers. The entire atmosphere at Rockwood was that of a party filled with loved ones. In fact, some of the musicians noted (on Twitter, and probably elsewhere) that it was more like an Office Party for them, given how many musicians were performing and in the audience. We were thrilled to participate in said party.

In addition to the ticket price going to the charity, this was also an official CD Release Party. Physical CDs were on sale for $10. $20 got you the physical CD of A Holiday Benefit #5 plus downloads of the previous four albums. Of course we did that. We kicked in more money later to purchase CDs by some of the performers, signed, with the proceeds going to 826NYC as well.

At the end, the encore involved inviting all of the performers back on stage together to sing one last song. It was hard to count accurately, as people kept jumping on stage (even some who didn’t perform earlier), but I’m 99% sure that at one point there were at least 26 people on stage at the same time. If that’s correct, that’s a new record for a show I’ve attended (sorry Sam Teichman, you have your work cut out for you now!). Winking smile

There’s no way to review a show like this without spending an entire day writing (something I don’t have the time to do today, nor the inclination). In fact, it’s sort of beside the point. What I’ll do instead is similar to what I did for the Haiti Benefit nearly two years ago. I’ll list the acts in the order they appeared, and mention who supported them. When first mentioning a support person, I might say a few extra words.

Mary Bragg (#1). Mary was new to us. Great voice. On her second number she also played acoustic guitar. She was accompanied by two very talented people, who I think played only with her. I’ll list them next.

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Mike Cassedy on electronic keyboards. Excellent. Mary gave him a couple of leads and he was great.

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Jimmy Sullivan on electric bass (no good individual link). He too was excellent. He made the electric bass sound exactly like a very jazzy upright on one of the numbers. He was smooth.

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Casey Shea (#2) on electric guitar and vocals. Casey was wonderful. In addition to singing and playing well, he was very funny. He had two female backup singers, each of which was a lead performer later in the show, so I’ll save their names for their proper spots.

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Casey brought up Sean White to read a poem to end one of his songs. It continued the comic nature of an otherwise horrifyingly sad song (my house burned down on Christmas).

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Paula Valstein (#3). We’ve seen Paula once before, at the Haiti Benefit. She played solo at the electronic keyboards. Great voice, excellent piano play. Definitely someone we need to check out more (one of our friends has been telling that to me for a while). Paula was also one of Casey Shea’s backup singers.

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Astoria Boulevard (#4). Wow! I can’t believe I never heard them (or of them) before. Three guys who sing heavenly three-part harmony. They’re funny and natural on stage as well. They opened the first number a cappella and knocked me back a few steps with how awesome they were.

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Guitar, ukulele, harmonica and kazoos were played too. They were supported by the default house band (the next two people listed).

Ryan Vaughn on drums. Ryan was fantastic playing with roughly half of the acts last night. Ryan also joined for Mary Bragg’s second number, so I should have listed him earlier.

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Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony was his usual excellent self whenever he was on stage, which was a bit less than Ryan, but still the primary bass player for the evening.

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Dave Pittenger (#5). We’ve never seen him, but I’ve heard of him many times. Mostly because he’s producing Live Society’s new CD (or at least I think it’s him). Dave invited two special guests up, Bess Rogers and Chris Kuffner to kick off his first number. Dave and Bess flubbed Baby It’s Cold Outside a bit, but turned it into a very good natured thing.

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Chris played the electric guitar in an understated but fascinating manner. When they had to restart, he signaled to Ryan and Tony to join in, filling out the sound.

Dave then performed a second number accompanying himself on the electric guitar (with Ryan and Tony playing).

DavePittenger

Misty Boyce (#6). Misty kicked off her numbers on the guitar (I didn’t know she played the guitar), with the second number on the keyboards. Her voice is fantastic. In addition to playing the keyboards really well accompanying herself, she also played them with a couple of other acts, super tasty every time. I’ve been wanting to see her perform her own set for a while and this only increased that desire. She was the second backup singer supporting Casey Shea.

MistyBoyceGuitarMistyBoyceKeyboards

Nick Africano (#7). We hadn’t seen Nick before. (That’s a total lie, Nick played with Misty during her first number, so we saw him before he took center stage!). He played the guitar beautifully (subtle slide leads). When he took over, Misty played the keyboards and she called up Bess Rogers, Paula Valstein and Charlene Kaye to sing backup. Very nicely done. We will be on the lookout for Nick in the future.

NickAfricano

Greg Mayo Band (#8). OK, it was technically the Greg Mayo Band, without the brass section. They also weren’t wearing suits, so I’m not sure how official this appearance was. That said, they were incredible, so I have no complaints! They had a guest vocalist and percussionist join them, but since each was a headliner as well, I’ll mention them later.

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Here are the people that were in the Greg Mayo Band setup last night (left-to-right on stage, not including the guests):

Paul Maddison on electric guitar and vocals. Wonderful.

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Rebecca Haviland on vocals. Spectacular.

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Kenny Shaw on drums. Excellent.

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Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Superb.

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The Vanity Belles (#9). We’ve seen them sing backup with other groups. We’ve seen them perform on TV twice. Unbelievably, this was the first time we saw them perform as The Vanity Belles, live. We’re proud supporters of the ladies through their recent (successful) Kickstarter, so this was one of the extra special reasons why I wanted to attend. Of course, they were fantastic. Whew! Winking smile

TheVanityBelles

Patrick Firth played electronic keyboards for them. Joining him to round out the band were: Greg Mayo on guitar and Chris Anderson on electric bass. The drummer was already on stage before with the Greg Mayo band (as the guest percussionist) but I still haven’t mentioned his name (soon, don’t panic!).

PatrickFirth

Oscar Bautista played electric guitar as part of The Vanity Belles band. He is always great, so I wanted him to have a paragraph for himself. Smile Another reason to give Oscar his own section? He broke out the mandolin last night, one of my favorite instruments. Sweet!

OscarBautistaOscarBautistaMandolin

Next up was another group I’ve wanted to see for a long time.

The Stone Lonesome (#10). This is duo of Zach Jones (finally got to mention him) and Emily Long. We’ve seen Zach drum many times (including earlier last night, and he was the guest percussionist with the Greg Mayo Band as well). He’s an awesome drummer. I also knew that he sings well, and that was proven when he was front-and-center with Emily last night. What I didn’t know was that he also plays the guitar. Emily sings really well too and the two of them sound great together.

TheStoneLonesome

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Brian Killeen supported them on electric bass, a perennial favorite of ours. He was joined by Ryan Vaughn on drums and Greg Mayo on electric guitar. Zach let Greg take a number of fantastic leads. The entire night was amazing, but I would have left happy just for the guitar solos that Greg took during The Stone Lonesome songs!

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Martin Rivas (#11). Martin had previously sung as a guest with the Greg Mayo Band, wonderfully. He now took center stage and wowed everyone with two of his own songs (one a Christmas number, the other off of his new CD, due out in May, 2012). He was supported (incredibly) by Patrick Firth, Greg Mayo, Chris Kuffner, Zach Jones and Brian Killeen.

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A few items were raffled off during the evening. One of them was a jar of Martin Rivas’ world-famous spaghetti sauce (or is it more properly referred to as tomato sauce?!?). Anyway, we won it (see the proof here and again in a couple of the photos at the very bottom!). Can’t wait to savor it!

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Chrissi Poland (#12). We’ve only seen Chrissi singing backup with others. We knew she had an extraordinary voice but I have to say that I still didn’t understand the full effect of it until last night. Another wow. We won’t be attending, but if you want to catch her headlining a show, with Martin Rivas opening, head to Highline Ballroom this Sunday night (Dec 18th, 2011). You won’t be disappointed!

ChrissiPolandGuitar

On her first number, she played guitar and was accompanied by Patrick Firth, Greg Mayo, Rebecca Haviland, Martin Rivas, Ryan Vaughn and Brian Killeen.

She then put the guitar down and blew everyone away accompanied by the same band, minus the backup singers (Rebecca and Martin). Her voice and stage presence had us eating out of her hand.

ChrissiPolandSinging

Caleb Hawley (#13). Caleb is one of my favorites and I’m always disappointed when I can’t make it to one of his shows (which happens more frequently than I care to admit, including the night before!). At least I got a taste last night to hold me over until his next full show.

CalebHawley

Caleb was supported by Patrick Firth, Ryan Vaughn, Zach Jones and Brian Killeen. There was dancing in the audience (not atypical of any Caleb performance), but I won’t post the pictures, since those people didn’t sign any waivers. Winking smile

Benjamin Wagner (#14). Benjamin was our host throughout the show, introducing each act as they were coming on stage. Now it was his turn to shine and shine he did. He has a wonderful voice and he wielded it for our delight. He was joined by a stellar band. I’ll mention all but two of them, since they were the next two headliners and hadn’t yet made an appearance.

BenjaminWagnerSinging

Misty Boyce on keyboards, Chrissi Poland singing backup, Ryan Vaughn and Tony Maceli. All, great!

For his second number, additional backup singers joined: Mary Bragg, Bess Rogers, Paula Valstein and Martin Rivas.

In true showman style, Benjamin left the stage and prostrated himself right in front of us! Smile

BenjaminWagnerOnTheFloor

Bryan Dunn (#15). Bryan also played guitar on Benjamin’s set. Bryan is wonderful all around. When Benjamin introduced him, he said “Bryan is normally a rocker, but he’s going to bring you down a bit with his first number.” Ha! I hope no one fell for that. It might have started out sounding like a ballad, but Bryan had everyone hopping in no time.

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Both his numbers were fantastic (and no, I wasn’t the least bit surprised!).

He was supported (wonderfully) by Misty Boyce, Ryan Vaughn and Tony Maceli. He also had another guitar player and vocalist, but since he was the next headliner, I’ll save his name for the very next line.

Chris Abad (#16). Another wow for me. He played guitar for Benjamin and Bryan Dunn and sang harmony with Bryan. His guitar play was awesome. It looked like he was playing one of Greg Mayo’s two electric guitars, so for a minute, I thought that perhaps Greg just has magical guitars and anyone could make them sound this good. I checked after the show, and the guitars are just look-a-likes, so apparently Chris is just really that good. Winking smile

ChrisAbad

He also sang at center stage when Bryan was done, and did a great job. He was supported by Misty Boyce, Bryan Dunn, Ryan Vaughn and Tony Maceli. If I heard correctly, Chris also produced at least one of Bryan’s CDs, perhaps the upcoming one as well. Talented guy, no doubt!

For his second number, he was joined by a slew of backup singers: Mary Bragg, Bess Rogers, Paula Valstein, Charlene Kaye, Chris Kuffner and Benjamin Wagner.

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Like I said above, the finale had a ton of people on stage. Here are some photos:

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One of the only performers who didn’t hop on stage was Kenny Shaw. When Martin tried to get him to come up, Kenny seemed to motion to Martin to come down instead. Martin took it as an invitation to have Kenny hold him in his arms. Kenny obliged! Smile

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We shared the evening a number of friends. In one of the photos you can even see our hard-won jar of sauce (I went with the cautious “sauce” with no modifier there).

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Here’s a shot of our bounty from the night:

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Jeff Litman at Rockwood Music Hall

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It’s been 3.5 months since we last saw Jeff Litman headline a set at Rockwood Music Hall, so we were due. The band was the same (a very good thing considering their skills), including the same guest keyboard player. There were two additional guests, taking Jeff’s always excellent performances up a notch.

JeffLitman

A quick recap about Jeff (I’ve written about him a number of times now, so if you want more details, find any one of those posts on this site).

Jeff is an excellent songwriter. He plays the guitar really well (both electric and acoustic). He happens to be a very good bass player too, but that’s not the instrument he plays in his own band. He sings well.

Most importantly, he surrounds himself with top musicians and delivers an upbeat show that is hard to resist (so we don’t bother trying).

The first of the two special guests spent much of the set on stage, starting on the very first song.

Maddy Wyatt sang harmony on roughly 2/3’s of the songs. On one number she also played the flute, beautifully, an instrument that is sorely lacking at Rockwood.

JeffLitmanMaddyWyatSingingMaddyWyattFlute

The other guest was Shanna Zell (who headlines her own sets, as well as being a member of The Ramblers, another of my favorite groups). Shanna was slated to sing on Back to You, the third song on the set.

SetList

Jeff announced that Shanna’s bus was running late and he was going to push that song down the list. What he didn’t know was that I personally arranged for Shanna’s bus to be late, not because I didn’t want to hear her, but because I wanted to move the fourth song up one notch, happily listening to Shanna a few songs later.

ShannaZell

My evil plan worked! Winking smile

When I tell you above that Jeff is an excellent songwriter, I mean it across the board. That doesn’t mean that one song doesn’t stand out (for me personally). In my case, that song is Maine. Jeff knows it, I know it, anyone who reads this blog knows it (and for sure, the Lord knows it).

It’s been great every time, but last night was a real treat. On the CD (Postscript), Jeff sings the entire song harmonizing with a female voice (Kelly Jones). Since this was the first of Jeff’s shows where he had a female guest, it was the first time that he was able to perform the song as it is on the CD. Maddy was invited back up (while we waited for Shanna’s bus, bwahaha) to sing with him.

Thanks Jeff and Maddy. I should mention (for those that didn’t read the other posts) that Jeff switches to acoustic guitar on Maine and plays the harmonica as well.

Later in the set Jeff played a new song (he’s getting very close to releasing a brand new CD!) that he also played acoustic guitar on. The band took a break and Maddy sang with him (I think it might have been the song that Maddy played flute on as well). Wow. Maine may get some competition from this new CD (this song, or likely others that I haven’t heard yet). Very exciting.

JeffLitmanMaddyWyatNewSong

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

Bryan Dunn on electric and acoustic guitars and vocals. Bryan is good at everything he does (at least the things he does on stage). Winking smile For most of the set he played acoustic guitar while Jeff played electric. When they switch, Bryan shows off his considerable skills playing lead. He sings extremely well, though he deferred to Maddy more than he does during a more typical Jeff Litman set.

BryanDynnElectricGuitar

Matt Basile on electric bass. Matt is excellent, making bass play seem effortless (while keeping the sound just right).

MattBasile

Elliot Jacobson on drums. It was a treat to see Elliot for a second time in four days (he supported Bess Rogers on Thursday night for her CD Release Show). He’s excellent no matter who he’s supporting, but Jeff’s music is generally so upbeat, that Elliot’s precision, speed, stamina and notorious hard-hitting style are so perfectly suited to it. The rest of the band needs to nail every song because Elliot sets a demanding example.

ElliotJacobson

Jason Wexler once again was a guest keyboard player (grand piano and electronic). He joined for the last two numbers and was an integral part of both, in particular the only cover of the night, the closing number, Pump it Up.

JasonWexler

We couldn’t have been happier with the set. Thanks Jeff, Bryan, Matt, Elliot, Maddy, Shanna and Jason.

Backscratch XIV at Rockwood Music Hall

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We’ve only been to one Backscratch before, but we’ll do our best to never miss one going forward. Last night was #14, but I decided to show off my mad Roman Numeral skills in the title. Winking smile This one was back at Rockwood Music Hall (not the original venue). I covered the last one and explained the concept thusly:

Here’s the concept: gather a bunch of musicians. Each plays three songs. Traditionally (or so the legend goes) each played one original song, one well-known cover and one cover of another of the evening’s musicians, which they were each assigned at random! Now, it’s often two originals followed by the backscratch.

Backscratch was conceived by Martin Rivas and Craig Meyer, the same geniuses that brought Campfires to the world. Since Martin is touring in the UK and Europe at the moment, and Craig is probably on the road with Rachel Platten, neither was there. No matter, the MC duties were performed by Christina Morelli of NYC Art Scene fame.

We would have gone even if none of the musicians was known to us. That wasn’t the case last night, as only two of the nine performers were strangers to us. A number of them are counted among our favorites!

Jeff Litman opened the show because his band’s equipment was already on stage from his birthday set. He performed the more traditional 3-song set. He opened with a solo acoustic cover, Never Going Back Again, by Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. What a way to kick off Backscratch XIV!

JeffLitman

Jeff’s band (Bryan Dunn, Matt Basile and Elliot Jacobson) joined him for the next two numbers. The first was his original, Everything You’re Not (from his current CD, Postscript). Jeff closed his trio with a cover of Valerie Mize (his backscratch), Promises, from her Auspices EP.

I’m not going to be able to name every song from every artist, since I do this from memory (and I don’t know all of their songs well enough anyway). Where I think I know/remember, I’ll say so.

Jesse Terry was up next, solo with an acoustic guitar. Jesse is one of our favorites, so we knew we’d enjoy his numbers. I was more curious to hear what his backscratch would be (they are assigned randomly). Jesse opened with Pearl Diver, a very new song (which we’ve heard before, since we do our best to show up whenever and wherever Jesse performs). Next up was Scared of Nothing, another Jesse original. His voice was incredible on both numbers.

JesseTerry

For his backscratch, Jesse drew Live Society. If you read anything I write, you likely know how much I love Live Society. Given how amazing Jesse’s voice is, and how well he handles the guitar, I admit to being extremely excited about this. He performed No One, which isn’t on their current EP. It was fantastic (both the song, and Jesse’s interpretation), so I’m seriously hoping it will be on Live Society’s forthcoming CD!

I played a critical role during the performance (which you might someday get to see on YouTube, since the entire evening was filmed by Sam Teichman). There was quite a breeze inside Rockwood and the sheet music (most of the backscratchers require some cheat sheet) was flapping off the music stand. I bravely reached up and held the corner of Jesse’s sheet for the entire song, saving the day! Winking smile

Please allow me a digression here (or skip ahead, I might not even be able to tell). I used the word interpretation above for a few reasons. First, there’s the obvious one (in this case), where Jesse is a solo artist trying to reproduce a song performed by a band that crushes three-part harmony, and is accompanied by guitar, keyboards, bass and drums (usually).

Second, the backscratch is often a song that was learned quickly, at times even on the day of the show, so it’s not likely to be a studied copy. But the most important thing is that it’s often a true artistic interpretation, in the sense of paying homage to the original artist by delivering it to them in your style (for most cases, the original artist is hearing it live then and there).

Jesse delivered No One in his own style. I absolutely would have believed it was one of his songs if he had introduced it as such. After singing it, he met Live Society for the first time. How cool is that, practically and conceptually?

LiveSocietyJesseTerry

Unfortunately, Jesse had to leave shortly after performing. He had an early trip this morning, heading to Greenland, just shy of the North Pole (of all places). He’ll be serenading our troops there for the next week or so. He didn’t get to hear the backscratch that covered him (we’ll get to that later).

Valerie Mize was up next. She performed two originals with her band (Antar Goodwin on electric bass and Tomo Kanno on drums). She opened with Downtown Train. She followed that with a new number. She played electric guitar on both, finger picking (beautifully) for the most part, and strumming without a pick the rest of the time. She has a beautiful voice.

ValerieMizeSinging

We’ve seen Valerie only once before, at the Soul Benefit where she sang backup. Here’s what I wrote about her performance that night:

For most numbers, there were three or four backup singers on stage. All but one sang lead as well, so I’ll mention them in a second. The only backup singer who didn’t sing lead on at least one song was Valerie Mize. She did a wonderful job. I’m sure if there was more time, she too would have taken a turn at the center mic and wow’ed us.

I’d never seen Antar or Tomo before. Both did a very good job and are well-matched with Valerie.

AntarGoodwinTomoKonno

For her backscratch, Valerie dismissed the band and moved to the grand piano. She sang Ophelia by John Schmitt. He too is one of our favorites, as is that specific song (title cut from his current CD). Valerie played the piano beautifully and sang a very soulful version of Ophelia.

ValerieMizePiano

Patrick Firth was up next. We’ve seen Patrick many times, but last night was a first on two scores. We’d never seen him perform an original and we’d never seen him play anything other than keyboards. Instead of heading for the grand piano in the corner, Patrick (his friends seem to call him Pat, but that feels presumptuous on my part) sat on a stool, center stage, and sang an original accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar. Very nicely done!

PatrickFirthGuitar

I already knew he had a nice voice (you can read about it in this post). Now I know that he can write and sing his own stuff (that night was covers) and play the guitar as well.

Patrick then moved to the piano and performed a brand new song that he wrote over the post three days (finishing it yesterday!). He plays with the Big Apple Circus and wrote it while in CT, on breaks, between shows.

PatrickFirthPiano

For his backscratch, Patrick played Grow by Nick Howard. What a fantastic job. We had just seen Nick perform a full set earlier that night (with a full band), next door at Rockwood 2 (covered here). He played that song with the full band. Patrick’s rendition was very different and equally beautiful.

Unfortunately, Nick hadn’t made it over to Rockwood 1 yet, so he missed hearing Patrick nail his song.

John Schmitt was up next. That alone would be reason enough for celebration. But, in a complete surprise for me, John brought up Greg Mayo to play guitar with him. John opened with Two Souls.

JohnSchmitt

Greg played some amazing guitar solos (surprise!) and sang a few words (way too few) of harmony (very nicely). He played Patrick Firth’s guitar.

GregMayo

Next John played Going Back (a fantastic new song of his, that isn’t on the Ophelia CD). Typically, he has a female voice singing harmony with him. Greg basically filled that role with guitar leads. Holy moly, it was awesome.

John is currently raising money to record that song professionally. We contributed early. Even though we did (quite happily), we noted to each other that the raw version John has up on his donation page is quite beautiful. We worried (privately) whether people would wonder why he needs/wants another version. Having heard how different it can sound by just adding another guitar (admittedly, one played by Greg Mayo!), made us just contribute a second time. We no longer doubt John Schmitt’s wisdom. Smile

Greg then left the stage and tried to take Patrick’s guitar with him. John kept it, asking Patrick if he could use it for his backscratch (John had broken a string earlier, and had to use a different one in its place. I’ll spare you the groaners about a broken G-string.) Winking smile

Patrick agreed to let John use the guitar, until John admitted that his backscratch was none other than Patrick. At that point Patrick said: “Then NO!”. Of course, he was kidding, but it was funny nonetheless.

I don’t know the name of the song, but it was great. So, Patrick can indeed write, and we already knew that John can deliver. A great combo!

Lara Ewen was up next, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. I had never heard of Lara, so I didn’t recognize the two originals that she played. They were both nice and I like her voice.

LaraEwen

For her backscratch, she drew Jesse Terry. She was quite funny in pointing out that most people give excuses like “I had to miss your performance because I was at the North Pole, but that in Jesse’s case, it was the truth!”. Winking smile She added that she was happy about that, because she was reasonably sure she was going to butcher his number.

She chose The Runner (the title cut from Jesse’s CD). She was correct in knowing that she hadn’t quite nailed the song, but I certainly wouldn’t say she butchered it, just that certain parts caused her some grief. Winking smile

Benjamin Wagner was up next, also accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. Benjamin was the only other performer I hadn’t heard of before. In this case, it turned out to be a little less mysterious. He has a full-time job and a one-year-old, which has slowed down his live performances dramatically.

BenjaminWagner

Of all the performers, he was the chattiest. While I found his style entertaining and the content interesting and well-delivered, he was also the only one who cursed (and quite a bit at that). I’m no prude, but it was still jarring in contrast to the rest of the show.

He has a very good voice and plays the guitar well enough. That said, neither of his two originals (Giving Up the Ghost and Dear Elizabeth) grabbed me.

He inserted his backscratch in between them. He drew Lara Ewen and chose One Day. Wow, I really liked it a lot, both the song and his performance of it. So, I know Lara is capable of writing songs that will grab me, and I know that Benjamin is capable of delivering a song in a manner that will engage me as well. Neither pulled that off with their own originals, but the sample size was two in each case, so let’s toss that out and start again, the next time I see either of them.

Benjamin blogs regularly and he posted his thoughts about last night’s show.

Nick Howard was up next (and had arrived by then). He played solo acoustic, quite a contrast to his earlier full-band set at Rockwood 2. One of the two originals that he played was Grow, which he had performed in the earlier set. It’s the same song that Patrick Firth had covered for his backscratch, but Nick was unaware, since he hadn’t made it in yet.

NickHoward

That made three performances of Grow in one night for us. All were quite different from each other (even though Nick himself performed two of them!). All three were very well done.

Nick’s other original was Falling for You, which he had also performed with the full band in the earlier set. Once again, his solo performance was different and beautiful. As I noted in the earlier post, he had to work harder to get his voice heard over the full band. In the solo set, his voice was just right.

For his backscratch, Nick drew Benjamin Wagner. I don’t recall the song, but I remember thinking it was nice and that Nick did a good job with it.

Last, but certainly not least, was Live Society. They were without their guitarist (John Kaiteris), keyboard player (varies) and drummer (Erik Perez). The three singers, Brian Collazo, Jason Vargas and Kevin Collazo were joined by their regular bass player, Anthony Candullo. Anthony also played acoustic guitar on one number.

BrianCollazoGuitarAnthonyCandulloGuitar

Two special guests joined them: Patrick Firth on grand piano and Greg Mayo on acoustic guitar.

Live Society reverted to the classic format, one famous cover, one original and one backscratch, mirroring the opener (Jeff Litman) as the only acts who did that last night. That was more than fitting, as they asked the crowd if any of us had done the calculus to guess who their backscratch was? Even you who weren’t there should be able to figure it out. I’ll give you a minute while I get to their other two songs.

GregMayoLiveSociety

They opened with their original Better Man. Gorgeous! They followed that with I Second that Emotion by Smokey Robinson. Jason Vargas took the lead for a good portion of the song. It was fantastic.

JasonVargas

For their backscratch, they drew Jeff Litman (please don’t tell me you haven’t figured it out yet). They performed Open Arms. Frist, the bottom line: Wow! Now, some details.

Jeff’s version is wonderful, but it’s straight up power Pop. Live Society owned their version, which was about as Mowtown/R&B as you could hope and it couldn’t have worked better.

All three of them traded singing lead. Yes, you read that correctly. If you’ve followed my other ravings about Live Society, then you know that I have started a campaign to get them to have Kevin sing some lead. He did, and he was terrific! I had to tease him/them after the show, pointing out that it took a backscratch to get Kevin to take a lead. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a trend. All three of them can sing, including Kevin!

KevinCollazo

What a way to end a spectacular evening.

Backscratch was listed as 9-11pm on the Rockwood schedule. Before the show started, the sound guy told Christina that the previous show had run over and he would appreciate her trying to keep it moving at a rapid pace. Ha!

Last night’s show ran over by only an hour. No one dawdled. Let’s do the math: nine artists each performing three songs, averaging four minutes = 108 minutes. That’s nearly the full two hours, without accounting for time between songs, banter, and oh yeah, changeover between acts (sometimes including moving equipment around). The fact that it’s not scheduled for three hours is the joke, not that it ran over.

Update: A number of people commented to me via email and Twitter that the site correctly listed it as three hours, albeit confusingly. That’s correct, in the sense that there was no artist listed at 11pm. But, the show was listed as 9-11pm, which was explained to me as meaning that 11pm was considered a continuing start time. Wow, not the clearest communication. Anyway, I’ll still knock Rockwood for not making that part clear, but Christina Morelli did indeed deliver an on-time performance! 🙂

It was late, obviously, but I can’t imagine having missed it. Smile

Jeff Litman at Rockwood Music Hall

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On their birthday, most people wait (patiently or otherwise) to see what their friends and family will do for them. Musicians? Not so much. A number of them book shows on their birthday, effectively throwing a party for their friends, family and fans. Yesterday was Jeff Litman’s birthday and that’s exactly what he did, booking a show at 8pm at Rockwood Music Hall.

JeffLitmanBirthdayFace

We planned to attend this and the show immediately afterward (covered in my next post). We also ended up attending an earlier show next door (covered in this post). When Nick’s set was over, we made the grueling 3-foot walk from Rockwood 2’s front door to Rockwood 1. Whew.

We saw Jeff perform at Arlene’s Grocery on May 20th (covered in this post). Last night he was supported by the same band, with one guest star joining them late in the set.

Jeff played the electric guitar for most of the set (very well). He played acoustic on a few and added harmonica on Maine. He played the grand piano on one number.

JeffLitmanGuitarJeffLitmanPiano

If you read the above-linked post, you know that I particularly raved about Jeff’s song Maine. I ended my rave with:

I’ll never get tired of this song, I promise! Smile

Here we are, more than a month later, and not only am I not tired of it, I warmed up for last night’s show by listening to Maine while exercising the day before. So, I was grateful to Jeff that he didn’t torture me by saving it for the end of the set (he likely knew he couldn’t get out of Rockwood without playing it). As you can see, it was third on the set list. That allowed me to relax and enjoy the entire set without the anxiety of wondering when I’d get to hear Maine. Smile

SetList

The entire set was excellent, with the exception of the fact that as I’ve noted a number of times recently, Rockwood 1 probably isn’t best suited to full-on Rock. It wasn’t too loud last night, but it was loud enough to slightly wash out Jeff’s voice at times. It’s a dilemma, because in general, Rockwood is such a great experience.

JeffLitmanSinging

Having the intimacy of Rock right in your face is awesome, but not controlling the sound (because amps are a few feet away, uncontrolled by the sound engineer) is deflating. It’s not purely an overall volume issue (to repeat, last night wasn’t that bad), it’s a blend problem that doesn’t seem easily controllable from the main sound board. It’s also possible that it’s not as bad in the corners of the room, but we’re always up front, so we always feel the problem.

A quick tour of the band followed by the guest:

Bryan Dunn on electric and acoustic guitars along with harmony. Repeating myself, Bryan is excellent, pure and simple. Excellent guitarist, excellent voice. I like his original music as well as his side-man performances. Looking forward to his new CD later this year.

BryanDunn

Matt Basile on electric bass. I enjoyed his play at Arlene’s, but he was often hidden from sight. Last night he was a few feet away from me and I could see all of his fingerwork up close and personal. The sound might have been just as good, but the experience was greatly enhanced (for me) by the visual.

MattBasileJeffLitmanMattBasile

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Elliot is a machine (I suspect, literally). He’s so fast, so steady, so hard hitting, that after the show, both Lois and I asked him how it is that his arms don’t fall off while he’s playing. He said “Glue”. Winking smile More than likely, it’s constant practice and general exercise. I noted that it was more likely his Guns (the boy has biceps). No matter, whatever his secret regime, it translates well on stage.

ElliotJacobson

Jason Wexler joined for the last few numbers on the grand piano. Impressive. I’ll need to keep an eye out for him at future shows.

JasonWexler

The best singing of the night occurred when Bryan Dunn led the rest of us in singing Happy Birthday to Jeff (who stubbornly refused to join in!). Winking smile

JeffLitmanRefusingToSingHappyBirthdayToHimself

The next post will cover the next set at Rockwood. Jeff Litman happened to open that show as well. Happy Birthday to us! Smile

Jeff Litman at Arlene’s Grocery

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Yesterday I posted a long rant. I ended it with the following:

I’m going to stop now, or I’ll miss the show we are attending tonight. Hopefully, I’ll be back to my normal blog style tomorrow, having loved tonight’s show. Smile

I can happily return to my normal posts after enjoying last night’s set very much! Whew.

Jeff Litman headlined the set at Arlene’s Grocery. We saw Jeff once, playing electric bass in a fantastic benefit concert organized by Sam Teichman at the Bitter End. He was one of 15 people on stage. I had no trouble recognizing his talent, but at the time, I had no idea that he was also a multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter.

I think Jeff started following me on Twitter and I followed him back. I then discovered his site (linked to his name above). I listened to some of the music he has available for streaming there and liked it. Much more important, I started reading his blog entries (right on the home page, just scroll down), in particular his post on giving away music.

I was extremely impressed by how smart Jeff is and how well he articulates his views. That made me all the more interested in seeing him perform. That opportunity finally arrived last night.

Jeff sang lead and played the electric guitar on nine of the 10 songs. He sings really well and plays the guitar extremely well (great leads and an excellent sense of rhythm).

JeffLitmanGuitar

I liked every single song (nine originals and he closed with a great cover of Pump It Up by Elvis Costello). Jeff wore a suit and tie for all of his originals. When he started Pump It Up, he took his jacket off. This was quite a feat, because he didn’t take his guitar (and strap!) off, so he had to wriggle out of the jacket.

JeffLitmanSetList

He tossed the jacket down on the stage and proceeded to stomp all over it during the song. Ah, the life of a Rocker! Winking smile

MattBasileJeffLitmanJacketOnFloor

On one song, Maine, Jeff switched to acoustic guitar and added a harmonica. There are many songs that I love that took a number of listens to reach that status. That said, most of my all-time favorite songs grabbed me within seconds and by the end of the song were already on the list. Maine is on the list and it was obvious within seconds. Lois felt exactly the same way. She just told me that she wanted to yell out “Play Maine again!” for an encore.

JeffLitmanSingingMaine

It is a blend of Dylan’s first electric efforts coupled with some of the best Country stuff we love. I’m listening to it on repeat now while writing this. I’ll never get tired of this song, I promise! Smile

Jeff was supported by a fantastic band, left-to-right on the stage:

JeffLitmanBand

Bryan Dunn on electric and acoustic guitar and vocals. We’ve seen Bryan once before (scroll to the bottom to read about Bryan) and really enjoyed him and his set (and his band!). More recently, he’s become the hub of a number of comments I’ve made on the blog. I didn’t know he’d be playing with Jeff until yesterday afternoon.

BryanDunn

Bryan was wonderful. His leads on the electric guitar were terrific and he complemented Jeff’s play when they were both on electric. He also played rhythm on the acoustic on a few numbers. His vocals were spot on, harmonizing beautifully with Jeff. It’s been too long since we’ve seen Bryan’s own set, but it sounds like we might have to wait until his new CD is out (September perhaps?) to see him again.

In the above-linked post, I mentioned that Bryan seems like a nice guy. I can now confirm my suspicions were correct. We chatted with Bryan and his wife (actually the entire band) after the show. We purchased Bryan’s current CD (he didn’t have it with him, but he’s mailing it to us, once I get him our address). Smile

Elliot Jacobson on drums. I’ve written about Elliot twice before. He’s a great drummer, not much more to add to that. Last night, that was critical. Elliot’s kick drum was mic’ed to the hilt. I was sitting on a bar stool. Every single time Elliot kicked, the floor shook my chair, and my heart and hair jumped around. Considering his perfect beat, it worked, as my body was part of the song (literally). Still, it could have been dialed back a notch.

ElliotJacobson

Matt Basile on electric bass. Excellent throughout, though I had to work at times to pick out his bass line given that it was often synchronous with the kick drum.

MattBasile

After the show we met up with the band in the bar area. In addition to purchasing Bryan’s CD, we also bought Jeff Litman’s current CD, Postscript (he’s recording another right now). Four of the songs from last night are on Postcript, including Maine, which Lois asked before we bought it. The entire CD is really good (I listened to it once through before putting Maine on repeat). At the moment, I’m on the 11th listen of Maine. I can squeeze a few more in while I type and select photos. Smile

ElliotJacobsonBryanDunnHadarBryanDunnMattBasile

I mentioned how great Bryan Dunn’s harmonies were, but I also have to give a big shout out to Kelly Jones (I hope I guessed the correct Kelly Jones!), who sings co-lead/harmony with Jeff on Maine on the CD. Superb.

I have one complaint and one giant compliment for the sound engineer at Arlene’s last night. The sound was well balanced (hearing leads, vocals, etc., were easy to pick out). But, it was insanely loud. Arlene’s Grocery is a relatively small room. I know this is Rock ‘N Roll, but it’s one of the few times I would have shoved earplugs in if I had them (Lois did, and did!). Aside from volume as a consistent complaint, this was our third time at Arelene’s, and I am very impressed with the way they run the place!

On to the major complement. While setting up, there was a lot of shuffling on stage. Jeff has a very large, sophisticated looking pedal board. He had to move it away from his microphone stand to adjust some settings on his amp at the back of the stage. While he was at the amp, Matt went over to Jeff’s pedal board and moved it a few inches. Unfortunately, the mic cable was caught under the pedal board. Before Matt realized what was happening, the mic stand (with the mic attached) came crashing to the floor.

A few seconds later, order was restored. The show began a few minutes later. When Bryan started singing, the mic was cutting in and out. Obviously, the cable came loose when the mic hit the ground. Within seconds, the sound engineer came flying out of his booth in the back of the room and he jumped on stage. When tightening the mic cable on both ends didn’t solve the problem, he grabbed an extra cable from the side of the stage, waited patiently, and then swapped the cables mid-song when Jeff finished a verse and was taking a short lead on the guitar.

By the time Jeff started the next verse, the mic worked perfectly. It’s great to see someone who is good at their job, but even better when they’re passionate about doing it well!

One last word about the loudness. The only other complaint about Jeff’s vocals was that they were a bit too bright. In a not-so-small irony, when doing the sound check, Jeff asked the sound engineer to tone down the treble on his vocals in the monitor. He gave him a thumbs up after the adjustment. The same adjustment should have been made on the house speakers.

We were glad to be back on track for thoroughly enjoying a night out listening to great musicians doing their thing!

P.S. I ended up listening to Maine 18 times while writing this post. Not quite enough, but it will have to do, since I have a few other things to do today. Winking smile

Vienna Teng, Rosi Golan and Ari Hest at Rockwood Music Hall

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On Tuesday night we saw Vienna Teng perform at Parkside Lounge. I detailed the show in this post. Two points to carry over from that night: 1) Vienna tailored the set list for the audience/venue and 2) She played 100% solo. Last night showed her flexibility in mixing it up.

If you’re a fan of an artist or a venue, I highly encourage you to find as many ways to follow them on the Internet (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Buzz, etc.). You never know when a last minute show will be announced, or the artist might appear under a pseudonym, etc.

On March 19th, Vienna tweeted the following:

Gig alert: NYC, Linz Ho plays Rockwood again Wed 3/24, w/band no less. Then to SF to join Paper Raincoat @ Noe Valley Ministry, Fri 3/26!

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that it’s possible that Linz Ho was going to be Vienna herself. A little digging could easily confirm that. We knew we’d be there.

ViennaTeng

Yesterday afternoon, when checking the Rockwood Music Hall site to see who was on before Vienna I noticed that right after her (I mean, right after Linz Ho) were Ari Hest and Rosi Golan appearing together, as a new group called The Open Sea. A couple of hours later, Rosi tweeted the same thing, so I had two chances to discover their last-minute engagement.

Vienna was back on a grand piano last night. Her set list was excellent. Constructed from memory, so excuse any lapses:

The Drugs Don’t Work (a cover of The Verve), Blue Caravan, I Don’t Feel So Well, The Last Snowfall (with Ari Hest), accompanying Ari Hest on one of his songs, [Update: I knew I missed at least one, she played a new song co-written with ambeR Rubarth called Everything’s Fine], 1 Br / 1 Ba, Augustine, City Hall

ViennaTengPiano

Vienna closed the show with City Hall, which was the first time in the nine times we’ve seen her perform that she didn’t close with Grandmother Song. City Hall was an excellent choice, and she continues to keep us on our toes. 🙂

The song that Ari sang during her set was a song he debuted during a Vienna set in January that I covered in this post. He didn’t write the lyrics on his hand this time, and therefore didn’t need to use a candle to see them (a shame, because that was a very cool visual effect!).

Here they are singing The Last Snowfall together:

ViennaTengAriHest

Vienna apologized for not having prepared enough in January to accompany him that night (to her standards, as none of us noticed anything other than excellent piano playing on her part). She was determined to rectify that, and she did. Her piano was incredible on this song, and I encourage Ari to get her to record with him whenever he gets this track into the studio.

Even though she performed under a pseudonym, Rockwood was packed. In contrast with the act on before her (which I’ll cover briefly at the end of this post), people were hanging on her every word/sound, meaning, it was a quiet and respectful crowd.

The band referred to above turned out to be:

Melissa Tong on violin (and even harmony on one number, which was a huge and pleasant surprise!). Melissa is always top-notch and last night was no exception.

MelissaTong MelissaTongSinging

Doug Yowell on drums. I think this was the first time that Doug has played with Vienna. [Update: Vienna’s manager informed me that Doug has played with her before, and is in fact on the live DVD which we own, but haven’t watched yet. Thanks Amy!] He was excellent throughout the set, and did a very nice job on the potentially difficult Augustine, which has a lot of drama (should that be drumma?) 😉 in it.

DougYowell

In the middle of one her songs, Vienna forced Doug to take a dual solo. While continuing to play the drums alone, she made him do his rendition of John Wayne’s drunken commencement speech. When he hit the punch lines, the crowd was hysterical. It took a while to compose ourselves, even when Vienna was singing again. Well done! 🙂

We’ve only gotten to see Rosi Golan and Ari Hest perform briefly. In addition to Ari’s song with Vienna in January, both he and Rosi performed at the Haiti Benefit which I covered in this post. Both had a full band, and it was a pretty crazy night with so many performers rotating throughout the show.

At the Haiti Benefit, Rosi won the raffle for a high-end Martin guitar, signed by all of the performers (including Rosi, Ari and Vienna!). She debuted it in public last night, and here’s Ari making a surgical adjustment to it before it was formally introduced to live play:

AriHestRosiGolanGuitarSurgery

Last night was a perfect setting to see each (and both) perform to their true abilities. We were sitting two feet from them (literally). They are each headlining performers (solo and with full bands) in their own right. They also have a side project together, called The Open Sea. This show highlighted The Open Sea, but each did a few of their own numbers as well, with Ari doing one solo.

AriHestRosiGolan

Both Rosi and Ari have exceptional voices. I can’t describe how well they go together, you’ll simply have to make it to a show to be placed under their spell. I already told you how quiet the crowd was for Vienna, the same was true for Ari and Rosi, because the thought of missing a single note was inconceivable.

They performed four numbers that they co-wrote for The Open Sea. They played at least another four of their individual songs (photo of the napkin set list appears below). Ari finger-picked the guitar on all but one song, and this is the first time I got a chance to notice and appreciate what a wonderful guitar player he is.

TheOpenSeaSetList20100324

Rosi complained that she had SXSW Voice, a condition caused by having to give so many interviews and performances in a short time, often yelling over tons of incredibly loud music. While it may have felt awful inside of her, it sounded as sweet as could be externally. Rosi will be headlining The Highline Ballroom on April 22nd, and I encourage you to run (not walk) to get tickets and make it to that show!

RosiGolan

In the fall, Alex Berger told me that I needed to buy Rosi’s CD The Drifter and the Gypsy. I dawdled longer than I should have, but bought it a few months ago. Wow! The entire CD is fantastic. The opening song, Think of Me, grabs me every time I listen to it. It was just featured in the new movie Dear John. Excellent choice on the part of the producers of the film!

Think of Me is available for you to listen to on Rosi’s MySpace page (linked above). Do yourself a favor and check out my claim. 🙂

Ari Hest just finished recording and mixing a new CD. It was produced by the extraordinary Alex Wong. Given how much I love The Paper Raincoat, Alex Berger’s Snow Globe and Vienna Teng and Alex Wong’s Inland Territory CDs (all produced by Alex Wong!), I can’t wait to get my hands on Ari’s CD when it finally lands.

AriHest

The Open Sea is working on a new EP. I can’t wait for that either. Why are you folks eating and sleeping, when I have a need to listen to your new music over and over?!? 😉

To repeat my point from the introduction to this post, if I didn’t follow Vienna on Twitter, I would be reading someone else’s account of last night’s show, rather than sharing these extraordinary memories with the rest of you, having experienced them first hand!

Rockwood is a fantastic place to see live music. Unfortunately, it’s small and has very few seats. We would stand for Vienna, Rosi and Ari, but we much prefer to sit (much). So, I looked up the act that was on before Vienna, and we decided to catch that set as well, in the hopes of snagging a seat we could hang on to throughout the night.

Bryan Dunn played with a full band, singing lead vocals and playing both acoustic and electric guitar. Most songs were a driving rock style with Bryan singing his heart out. He played rhythm on his acoustic (mostly) but took some nice leads on his electric. He has a great personality on stage and comes across like a very nice guy.

BryanDunn

Jim McNamara played an upright bass. He blew me away. I can’t say that I recall an upright bass being used by a mostly rock ‘n roll band, but Jim made it work perfectly. A few times he played leads in harmony with Bryan’s guitar. Some of those licks were pretty darn fast, and he nailed every one of them!

JimMcNamara

Craig Greenberg played the piano and sang some harmony vocals. Craig did a solid job on both, and Bryan gave him a few leads to stretch himself on the piano.

CraigGreenberg

Chris Benelli played the drums. This was the first time that Chris played with Bryan Dunn, and he did a very nice job.

ChrisBenelli

Here’s a shot of their set list:

BryanDunnSetList

We enjoyed their music, though it was a bit loud given how close we were to the stage. The only surprise (mentioned to contrast the quiet we experienced for Vienna, Rosi and Ari) is that people took the opportunity to talk to each other too much for our taste during Bryan’s set.

To make matter worse, because the music was so loud (which is what I think makes people feel that it’s OK to talk, heck, no one will hear them, right?), they had to scream at each other, which of course, then makes it easy to hear them.

Amazingly, a number of the worst offenders were personal friends of Bryan, who obviously came out to support him. He closed the show with a cool song where the audience sings and he responds. Two tables filled with his friends (one included his wife) did a fantastic job of singing and making the song a ton of fun. One of those tables was filled with people who talked throughout the rest of his set.

Oh well…

Another fantastic night out! 🙂