Chad Vaccarino

Ian Axel at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We’ve seen Ian Axel perform nine times prior to last night. The very first time was at Rockwood Music Hall, on October 23rd 2009. He blew us away. As hard as it is to imagine, he’s never disappointed us, even with a wide variety of venues and setups (solo, different band members, etc.).

So, it’s as much of a surprise to me as it will be to you when I say (pretty definitively) that last night’s show was the best of all of them (though the worst was awesome as well). There are a number of reasons for that which I’ll mention, but at every show there are always intangibles (and I’m not allowed to discuss those under penalty of law).

Ian quit his job six weeks ago at Apple to become a full-time musician. As scary as that decision had to be, it is also freeing. I’m sure that his confidence builds with every show and that last night won’t stand for long as our best Ian Axel experience.

Ian was signed to a brand new record label a few weeks back. That label has a distribution deal with Sony, so there’s a very good chance that many more people will be hearing about Ian and listening to his wonderful CD: This is the New Year.

Ian debuted a new song that he performed with Chad Vaccarino (they co-wrote it) without the rest of the band. People were still buzzing after the show about that song.

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Finally (for the tangibles), last night’s venue. We love Rockwood Music Hall and have seen many shows there. Last night was our first time at their new venue (right next door), named Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. It’s a larger room (not dramatically), with a small upstairs area as well. I think the capacity is roughly 200 people (which would make it roughly twice as large as the original Rockwood, which is still very much a thriving venue).

There is a fantastic Grand Piano at the new stage (there is an old one next door), and Ian rocked it hard. The sound system is evolving (so I’m told by other regulars), but it was awesome last night. I have no doubt it will be consistently great shortly, because it’s always great next door. The people who run Rockwood are music lovers, and they’ll do whatever needs to be done to nail this.

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On to the show itself. Ian had a full band with one substitution. Chris Kuffner normally plays lead guitar for Ian. This past Saturday night, Chris married Bess Rogers so his excuse for not showing up last night is reasonably solid. 🙂

Adam Christgau on drums and harmony vocals. I can never say enough about Adam. I couldn’t see him even for a second as the piano was blocking him completely (Lois raised her arm to capture the photo below). That said, I could hear every connection of a stick to a drum, cymbal or drum rim, and it was Adam at his finest.

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Chris Anderson on bass and harmony vocals. As always, Chris is a highlight of any Ian set, matched perfectly in sound and energy to Ian. Just another in a long string of wonderful performances.

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Dan Hindman on electric guitar (filling in for Chris Kuffner). I can’t find a good individual link for Dan, but there are a number of YouTube videos of him playing with Martin Rivas and others. He did a nice job but wasn’t highlighted.

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A friend of Ian’s, Shockey (sp?) Chocky, joined on stage for the ever fun Girl I Got a Thing. This is the third time that Shockey has joined the band for this song while we’ve been there. I am convinced that Shockey Chocky has the best job in music. He comes on stage for one song, drinks whiskey while the band plays, goes nuts with a tambourine when Ian sings about a tambourine, and leads the audience in singing along with “Girl I Got a Thing for You, Na na na na, Woah wo, Na na na na, Woah wo, etc.”

Shockey

In addition to debuting their new song, Chad Vaccarino joined Ian (with the full band) for two other songs. First, the crowd favorite title song from Ian’s CD, This is the New Year. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to have 200 people get goose bumps at the same time, so get yourself to a show and find out first hand.

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Right after that song, Mike Campbell also joined them for Shorty Don’t Wait (the only song that Ian played the ukulele on). This has quickly become one of my favorite Ian/Chad songs. Chad has a wonderful voice, and he nails this song each and every time.

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Ian played Say Something solo on the piano. I love that song. When I first heard it, he used to play it on the ukulele. Even though it’s awesome when he does it on the piano, every time he he plays it on the piano, my friend and I look at each other (on the second note of the intro) and smile knowingly, because we both miss hearing it on the ukulele, where there is a stark soulfulness that we love.

The show was sold out and the place was packed. A friend of ours was turned away at the door. 🙁

Opening the show was Katie Costello. We’ve only seen Katie sit in on two songs with Greg Holden at a previous Ian Axel show (Canal Room), so we didn’t know what we were in for.

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Katie has a lovely voice, nice range, wonderful smokiness whenever appropriate for the song. She accompanies herself very well on the piano. She opened and closed the show solo. All of the songs in between were with a full band. On one number, she sang without playing the piano, accompanied by the band.

Katie’s band was:

Mark Stepro on drums. This was a surprise (a very pleasant one). We’ve seen Mark once before playing with Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale. That night, he played guitar, so I didn’t know he was also a good drummer.

MarkStepro

Tony Maceli on electric bass. We love Tony, so the pleasant surprise here wasn’t how good he always is (we know that), but rather that he was playing with Katie!

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Daniel Mintseris played electric keyboards. He wasn’t highlighted much so I didn’t get a good sense.

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Rich Hinman on electric guitar and pedal steel guitar. This was the first time we’ve seen Rich. I was very impressed with his play on both the guitar and the pedal steel guitar. Reading his bio I see that he plays with other groups I’m not familiar with, but have heard wonderful things about (specifically, the Madison Square Gardeners). I very much look forward to catching Rich in the near future.

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Greg Holden joined Katie for one song. The harmony was beautiful, and Greg did a very nice job when he sang a bit of solo as well.

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I enjoyed Katie’s set.

Sandwiched in between Katie and Ian was Matt Duke. We’ve seen Matt once before, when he opened for Ian and Joey Ryan. I enjoyed last night’s set more than the previous one. I find the numbers when he sings more softly more compelling and there were much more of those last night. He does an excellent job of accompanying himself on the guitar.

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Rosi Golan joined Matt for one number. I really love her voice, and they sang beautifully together. An extremely nice surprise!

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Ian Axel Triumphantly Returns to Fair Lawn

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Ian Axel grew up in Fair Lawn, NJ. Last night they coaxed him back to play in the beautiful Fair Lawn Community Center. It was a very special night, filled with family, friends and fans. I can’t even imagine the emotions running through Ian’s head throughout the night, even though he did a great job giving us all a tiny glimpse with his stories and song intros.

They had a beautiful baby grand on stage, which Ian owned. He had his full band with him (I’ll mention each member shortly) and two special guests. As incredible as Ian is playing solo (an example was his last Rockwood show), the full band experience amplifies that significantly.

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That said, Ian played quite a number of solos last night (one in the the middle of the set, then all of the encore pieces), and each song was phenomenal, so take what I said above with a grain of salt. 😉

Ian mentioned that he had lost his voice the day before the show. Let me assure you, he found it just in time, because he hit the high notes as crisply as you could hope for. Of course, he never lost his fingers, so the piano playing (and ukulele on one number) were top notch throughout as well.

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From left to right on the stage with Ian:

Chris Kuffner played electric guitar. I’ve mentioned a number of times that I’ve had trouble picking out Chris’ sound during Ian sets. Last night was totally different. Chris’ amp was angled slighted, and pointed dead on to my seat. His volume was perfect (for my seat) as well. It’s the first time I got to fully appreciate how much his sound complements Ian’s playing. Bravo!

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Adam Christgau on drums. I can never say enough about how amazing Adam is on drums. Some drummers need to take a solo to show your their chops. Adam shows it on every song, just by enhancing the song itself, no solo necessary. He is one of the reasons that the full band experience is such a plus (for me) at an Ian show.

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Chris Anderson on bass. As I’ve mentioned many times before, Chris is the perfect bassist for Ian’s music, not only because he nails his part on each song, but because he has the energy to keep up with (or is that match?) Ian (which is saying a lot!).

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All three of the above sing a little bit with Ian. Not so much harmony, but more like call-and-answer parts, where typically, the audience ends up singing with the three of them as well in the answer part.

Joining for two number was the ever-wonderful Chad Vaccarino. It’s so heart-warming to see every crowd (this one being no exception) go nuts (literally) when Chad comes on stage. He’s a major vocal talent (with a deep passion for what he’s singing), and to have so many people be aware of that, in advance, is the kind of recognition he deserves.

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The first number Chad did was Shorty Don’t Wait. On that number, Ian played the ukulele and the other special guest, Mike Campbell joined and played guitar and sang. I’ve apologized a few times in the past for not having a good link for Mike Campbell. I snagged him after the show to ask for one, and he told me that I was right that he doesn’t have a web page. So, until he does, I’ll stop apologizing. 🙂

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There are a few times during Shorty Don’t Wait that Chad hits some high notes in such an electrifying manner than the audience reaction is palpable. Last night was about as good as I can imagine him hitting those notes, but I look forward to being proven wrong in the future! 🙂

The three of them (Ian, Chad and Mike) sing harmony beautifully together. Given that Ian doesn’t do much other harmony, any additional arrangements that he does with these fellas will be just fine with me.

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After Shorty, Mike left the stage. There was some hilarity in watching Chad flit back-and-forth between two different microphones, deciding which to use for the next number. Once that issue was settled, they jumped into the song that everyone knows by now (if you don’t, shame on you): This is the New Year. Like I’ve said before, if we all showed up and Ian and Chad just performed that one song 10 times in a row, we’d all leave feeling that we saw a great set!

After the set was over, we all gave Ian a standing ovation. He returned to the stage alone, and played one song. When he left again, people were chanting for him to return. When he did, he ended up playing three more songs, including Home (a song he doesn’t play often, but should!).

Lois cried when he played Mozart, a song he wrote after his dog (guess his name) passed away. I think it’s the first time we heard Ian play that song (solo, during the encore).

After the show, the entire band was out in the lobby to meet and greet. It was a party atmosphere given the makeup of the audience, and the quality of the performance.

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Apologies for the red eye in the following shot. My crude editing tools only made it worse so I left the red eye in (every photo in every post can be clicked for a larger version)…

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Opening for Ian was a last minute substitution, Patti Rothberg. From the introduction, it’s clear that Patti was a big deal a number of years ago, largely in the Rock world. Last night she played exactly 30 minutes of solo acoustic guitar (singing on each number). I was impressed with her voice.

PattiRothberg

The audience certainly wasn’t all family and friends, at least three other fans from NY came across the river to see the show, all of whom we are friends with due to our mutual connection to another wonderful singer/songwriter, Alex Berger. We monopolized the center of the first row, and enjoyed every second of the show!

OurFriends

For you New Yorkers, Ian is playing at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 on June 29th. If you’re on the west coast, you’ll get to see him sooner, along with the wonderful ambeR Rubarth!

Here’s the set list from last night, missing a few songs (mostly from the encores):

SetList

Ian Axel and Joey Ryan at Rockwood Music Hall

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We had a big birthday celebration weekend for Lois. I just put up a short blog (OK, short for me) about The Addams Family which we saw on Friday night. Last night, we had a special dinner at the Peking Duck House, and I will write about that in the next couple of days.

We pushed the dinner up to 6pm, so that we could be sure to make it to Rockwood in time to see Ian Axel and Joey Ryan.

We’ve seen Ian mostly with a full band, and once mostly solo (with others, like Joey Ryan, accompanying him a bit). He’s great both ways. Last night was the first time he was solo on a grand piano (the other time he was on electric keyboards).

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Ian creates a big enough sound to fill the room with the piano and his voice alone, so no disappointment at not having the full band. That said, if I get to choose, Adam Christgau and Chris Anderson are so wonderful, and fit Ian’s sound so perfectly, that it’s a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts (or some other high brow observation).

Ian Axel

Joining Ian for two songs was the ever-wonderful Chad Vaccarino. They did both Shorty Don’t Wait and This is the New Year. Even though it was just the piano and the two of them on the stage for This is the New Year, when the two of them were belting out the vocals together, the sound got very big.

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Joining them on stage for Shorty Don’t Wait were both Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale (who I will call out later on). Joey and Kenneth were also on stage with Ian for Say Something (which Ian played on the ukulele, which he also played during Shorty Don’t Wait).

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Ian played a song that he co-wrote with Greg Holden. Greg joined him to sing harmony. Gorgeous song. It was the first time we’ve heard it.

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Rockwood was packed to the gills. Ian mesmerized the crowd. When he whispered during a song, you could close you eyes and believe that you were the only one in the audience, it got that quiet. That’s not the norm, even for Rockwood, where you can often hear people chattering during the songs.

We spotted a number of friends in the crowd, who also juggled other plans to make sure that they didn’t miss Ian. Kindred souls we are. Check Ian out sometime soon, and join our club. 🙂

Friends

Coming on immediately after Ian was Joey Ryan. This is the first time we’ve seen Joey play with a trio. We have loved Joey both live and on his CDs, even when it’s just him and a guitar. I have to say that putting together this trio, with their exceptional harmonies and guitar interplay was brilliant.

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Joey’s songs are rich musically and lyrically and his self-effacing banter is endearing. He’s also an excellent guitar player. He was hitting on all cylinders last night.

To his left (stage right) was Kenneth Pattengale on guitar, harmony vocals and lead vocals on one of Kenneth’s songs, Charlie (which you can listen to on Kenneth’s site, linked to above). Kenneth’s voice blends beautifully with Joey’s. But the real magic happens when you lose yourself in Kenneth’s lead acoustic guitar.

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Kenneth has a feel for dancing in and around the melody of a song enhancing the basic structure with his soulful leads. He sounded great on the few songs he played with Ian, but he is so much more familiar with Joey’s music that he felt looser and more creative during every one of Joey’s numbers.

Rounding out the trio is the very talented Mark Stepro. Mark played guitar and sang harmony throughout the set. All three have excellent on-stage personalities.

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Ian joined them for two numbers.

Rockwood is mostly a set of 45 minute sets. Matt Duke played the set before Ian. Matt has been touring with Ian and Joey, so technically, he was opening for them last night. We got there in time to catch his set.

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Matt plays mostly straight up folk style, solo vocals accompanied on an acoustic guitar. He’s a talented guy, good guitar playing. Unfortunately, for people who came to see Ian and Joey, worse if they already knew Ian and/or Joey, it was a little hard for Matt to hold the crowd’s attention or live up to the others musically.

Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel at Mercury Lounge

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Lois and I go out of our way to avoid concerts where we have to stand throughout the show. That cuts out a number of top venues in NYC where that’s the norm.

For most rules, there are some exceptions. Last night, knowing we would be standing, we still couldn’t imagine skipping The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel. We would have gone to see either separately, but together, it was a lineup that was a crime to miss.

In fact, here’s my friend’s Facebook update about last night’s show:

HOLY CRAP!! Okay, seriously if you live in NYC and you did not come out to the Mercury Lounge to hear Ian Axel and The Paper Raincoat tonight you should be ashamed of yourself. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G show!

The only thing that would have added icing to the most delicious (birthday) cake would have been adding Vienna Teng to the lineup. While that magic didn’t happen, she was in the audience, so we were at least graced with her presence. 🙂

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Both The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel had all-star musicians supporting them. I’ll give each of them a shout-out toward the end.

Aside from the always spectacular performances that these artists deliver, last night had an extra-special surprise in store for us. Lois has a birthday this week, and The Paper Raincoat worked up a rendition of Happy Birthday which the jam-packed crowd sang along to.

They were singing the wonderful It All Depends, and toward the end, stopped singing, but continued the beat. Alex Wong announced that their friend Lois was in the crowd, and that it was her birthday, and would everyone please sing Happy Birthday to her. That was cool enough, but he got everyone in the audience to clap a rapid beat (to match the song), and ambeR Rubarth handed Lois a tambourine to play along.

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This was super meaningful to both of us, because it’s only a tad over a year ago, April 17th, 2009, that we first discovered The Paper Raincoat, and that night, Lois also played the tambourine during It All Depends at Canal Room!

They end the song with three people drumming fantastically on the same drum set at the same time (Alex, ambeR and Greg Ritchie). It’s incredible. But this time, because Alex got the crowd clapping in high-speed rhythm, everyone was essentially drumming together at the same time. What a crescendo!

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Speaking of clapping, there was another magical moment early in their set. They opened with Brooklyn Blurs, and then played Sympathetic Vibrations. Before announcing Sympathetic Vibrations or playing a single note, Alex merely said:

For those of you who already know your part, join me now

Nearly everyone in the crowd (probably close to 200 people) didn’t need any other clue. We all started clapping a pretty intricate beat to Sympathetic Vibrations. Too cool to describe, seriously. Having 200 people stop on cue as well is something to behold.

For the tiniest taste of the show (you can’t capture the feeling in a YouTube video), here they are performing the above-mention song, clapping and all, Sympathetic Vibrations at Mercury Lounge, last night.

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Mercury Lounge has a capacity of 250 people. It had to be close to full. The crowd was insane for Ian Axel and just as loud (between songs) and interactive for The Paper Raincoat. Standing wasn’t bad, because it’s impossible not to move with the music, so you’re really not stationary (not that we’ll start searching out shows to stand for).

Early in Ian’s set, he played a particularly energetic song, sung with his usual passion. He was probably close to collapsing in a pool of sweat at the end of the number. Someone in the crowd yelled out “Play in again!”. Lois immediately added “This time, with feeling!”, which evoked a huge laugh both from the audience, and from Ian himself. 🙂

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Joining Ian on stage for two numbers was Chad Vaccarino. For the first number, they were also joined by Mike Campbell (I can’t find a good link for him). They played Shorty Don’t Wait. It was awesome. Here’s a YouTube video of them performing it from last night’s show.

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Immediately following that, Ian did his signature song (which is the title cut of his new CD), This Is The New Year. Chad is featured on that as well. Seriously, check out the “official” video of that song as well. If an Ian set was comprised of simply playing that song 10 times in a row, I bet no one would leave disappointed! 🙂

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During The Paper Raincoat set, they announced that Paste Magazine (one of the premiere music industry publications) will be featuring them for the next month or so. I think the magazine will be giving away a free song each week, and a bonus free song from artists that The Paper Raincoat will pick to match their own free song. Awesome for those of you who haven’t yet bought their amazing CD!

The Paper Raincoat et. al. taking a bow at the end of their show:

DavidFalloMelissaTongGregRitchieAmberRubarthAlexWongTonyMaceli

On to the shout-outs for all the amazing musicians who were on stage. Starting with the people supporting The Paper Raincoat:

David Fallo on viola was superb!

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Melissa Tong on violin was her typical excellent self!

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Greg Ritchie on drums. As I pointed out in a recent blog covering The Paper Raincoat in Norfolk, VA, the drums are an integral part of The Paper Raincoat sound. They did an amazing job in Norfolk without a drummer, but the sound was distinctly different.

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Filling the shoes of Kevin Rice and Adam Christgau, the two drummers who between them play at nearly every show is no small task. Greg did an excellent job. I judge that by how many times I can’t help but look away from the singing (and other instruments) and I’m forced to zone in on some top-notch drumming. That happened often enough last night. 🙂

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony is always wonderful. Typically, Tony plays the upright bass and occasionally switches to the electric. Last night’s show was purely electric (both the instrument, and Tony’s play!).

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On to Ian’s band:

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar. As masterful as he always is, but I’m still dying to see him wail on the bass (where I’m told by people I trust that Chris will blow my mind!). We also finally got to meet Chris last night after seeing him play quite a number of times. He’s incredibly nice (no surprise for this group of musicians!).

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Adam Christgau on drums. Man, it’s been a little too long since we’ve had the pleasure. We got hooked on seeing Adam often over the past year, and he’s captivated me each time. Adam was a trooper because directly from last night’s set with Ian, he ran to Joe’s Pub to play the 9:30 show with Julian Velard.

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Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris is perfectly matched with Ian, both musically and passionately. We love his play and his style every time we see him.

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We were at the head of the line to get in when the doors opened (no surprise). That had the added benefit of us being at the door when the musicians were coming and going after sound check. Here are some pictures right outside the club, before the show started, with a few shots at the bar after the show thrown in for good measure. 🙂

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Ian Axel at Joe’s Pub

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We’ve seen Ian Axel perform three full sets before, plus a few songs at the New York Sings for Haiti benefit and some guest appearances. Still, we were looking forward to last night with great anticipation.

Joe’s Pub is our favorite NYC spot to see a show, and Ian is one of our few current obsessions, so having the chance to see him headline at our favorite place was a real treat.

The show was sold out (no surprise). Ian put out a new CD, This is the New Year, on January 5th. The title track video has become a music-lover’s destination on YouTube, with over 61,000 hits at the time I’m writing this.

I’m sure there were a few guests in the audience who hadn’t heard Ian’s music before, but from the roar and claps three notes into most songs, clearly the overwhelming majority were quite familiar with his material.

Ian is an exceptional pianist with an electrifying voice, who happens to write great songs. As great as his music is in our iPod, his performances are better for the energy that emanates from Ian, through his every pore.

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He opened the show with Waltz [Intro] (a solo classical piece for piano) with the band in the shadows standing quietly watching like the rest of us. Just like on the album, [Intro] flows directly into Waltz, where the band comes alive and everybody starts to tingle.

He played all but two or three of the songs on This is the New Year. He also played Say Something on the ukulele. That song isn’t on his CD or EP, but we’ve seen him perform it before, and I know a few people who tear up each time they hear it! (You know who you are!)

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Toward the end of the set, Chad Vaccarino stepped onto the stage. It’s hard to describe how much noise (and joy) can be generated by the roughly 200 people that were stuffed into Joe’s Pub. Obviously, there was no secret as to what the next song was going to be. Chad was rightfully overwhelmed.

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Chad is Ian’s manager. He sings lead in one verse and harmony on the others with Ian on This is the New Year. He’s our hero because he’s the one who convinced Ian to start singing. Before that, Ian was just a piano player.

Chad is self-deprecating about his singing style (he sings wonderfully and expressively!), but the most interesting part is that he’s perfectly matched in his energy with Ian, and it all comes across in This is the New Year!

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Two of Ian’s core band members were on hand with two additions.

Chris Anderson played bass and a bit of harmony. We like a lot of bass players, Chris included. But, as with Chad, Chris is perfectly matched with Ian. He has an emotive, energetic style on stage, and he’s fast enough to keep up with some of Ian’s more challenging riffs. Chris is always a joy to watch and listen to.

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Adam Christgau on drums and a bit of harmony. We missed Adam the night before at Highline Ballroom (covered in this post, where I specifically mention that). I’ve noted many times that Adam always matches his drumming to the artist and song, but that much of Ian’s music allows Adam to let out his wild child a bit. He was as tight and good as always last night!

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(No, I wasn’t drunk or high, just a little cold. We bumped into Adam before the show while we were on line.) 😉

Adam Tressler was a new addition (for us) playing electric guitar and a bit of harmony. I didn’t hear quite enough to have a strong opinion, but the little I heard was quite nice. Ian’s music doesn’t tend to highlight solo guitars (which is fine) but Adam supported the rest well enough.

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Dave Eggar played the cello on most of the songs. I covered him extensively in yesterday’s post (linked three paragraphs above), so I won’t get too repetitious here. This is the first time we’ve seen Dave sit in with Ian, so the comments I made about how well he blended with ambeR on such short notice probably apply here.

After the show, I accidentally crossed paths with Dave Eggar as he was leaving. I got to say the following to him (100% heartfelt!): “You are perhaps the greatest musician I’ve seen live, on any instrument!”. The fact that his instrument is a cello astounds even me, and I said it! Obviously, that’s a wildly subjective statement, but I’ll let it stand.

Given how active Dave is on stage, and how dark Joe’s Pub is, there wasn’t a single photo of Dave that was worth sharing from last night. 🙁

Ian closed the show with a song that the audience sang along on the chorus. As the song went on, the band left the stage and Ian started playing the piano softer and softer, until the audience was singing with no accompaniment. At that point, Ian slipped off the stage too. The audience was supposed to keep singing (I suppose), but instead erupted in whoops and claps until Ian came out again.

For his encore, he performed Home which also isn’t on the CD or EP (YouTube video of Home) accompanied only by Dave Eggar. A very emotional way to end a spectacular night.

One of the more amazing things is watching the band when they play with Ian. It’s obvious (to me at least) that they are huge fans and aren’t just there to pick up a paycheck (though what indie musician doesn’t desperately need one of those?). They are as happy as we are to be a part of the evening, though their part is just a tad more integral and difficult than ours is.

In case you doubt me when I say how much energy they put into the show, I’ll try and prove that assertion. Ian broke a piano string during the performance. A few minutes later, Adam cracked a drumstick.

I can’t name names, but someone was kind enough to make sure that we got both the piano string and the drumstick as mementos. We’re grateful for that, and we’re willing to share our booty/bounty with the rest of you (at least through these pictures):

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Greg Holden opened for Ian. We’ve seen Greg a number of times before, and his music continues to grow on me. He started the set a bit more mellow than usual but it had a nice feel. He got more energetic throughout the set.

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Ian joined him for one number (just piano, no harmony). Nate Campany joined Greg for one number as well, also just piano. Greg said that he co-wrote that song with Nate.

Dave Eggar joined Greg for two numbers. No such thing as “too much Dave”!

Greg also joined Ian on Say Something. Greg sat at the piano, but didn’t play it (during the song), singing very soft harmony. Before the song started, Greg tickled the keys a bit, threatening to start a couple of Ian songs (including This is the New Year), and Ian retaliated by starting a Greg song on the ukulele. The crowd was in stitches.

Apparently, Ian is giving Greg piano lessons. Even though he only played a few notes, I bet he’ll master it in the not-too-distant future.

After the show, Lois bought a few more T-Shirts (we already had two) and posters. If you’ve watched the video (if you haven’t, shame on you) then you might recognize that Lois had one of the women in the video model the poster for us (and now you):

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You have two chances to catch Ian on the East Coast before he heads out west. In Philadelphia at Tin Angel this Sunday, then on March 12th at Nightcat in Easton, MD. If you can, do it, you won’t regret it!

ambeR Rubarth, Ian Axel, Greg Holden and Joey Ryan at Tin Angel

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ambeR Rubarth is very good about disseminating information about upcoming shows once they’re set. When she tweeted a couple of months ago that she would be appearing in Philadelphia at Tin Angel with Ian Axel, Greg Holden and Joey Ryan on January 22nd, 2010, we grabbed tickets.

A month later ambeR announced that she, Greg and Joey would be performing on three consecutive weeks at Rockwood Music Hall in a January Residency. Rockwood is way more convenient, and we though we’d get to see them at least once. Amazingly, we couldn’t contort ourselves enough to make any of those shows, including the last one this past Thursday when Ian Axel guest starred as well.

No worries, we were set for last night, and had been to Tin Angel once before and knew we liked the place.

The gang of four had a bit of trouble with their GPS so we were actually seated right next to the stage as they scrambled in (about 25 minutes before show time). They did their sound checks and disappeared into the green room to catch their breaths for a few minutes.

Only six minutes late (7:36pm), they came back on stage and announced that they would be playing the show in the round, taking turns doing songs. We have grown particularly fond of that format from all of the CMA Songwriters shows that we attend at Joe’s Pub.

Greg Holden kicked it off with Joey Ryan doing a song we really love. They debuted the song on YouTube and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve listened to it, but it’s dozens (we sing it out loud in the car a lot).

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After that the order was Ian Axel, ambeR Rubarth, Joey Ryan and back to Greg again, etc. Each of them knows all of the music of the others so well, that there was quite a bit of support during most songs (harmonies, Ian playing piano for the others and the others playing guitar for Ian). They all sing harmony beautifully.

We’ve seen a number of our favorite keyboard players on real pianos and on electronic keyboards. While a good electronic keyboard and a good sound system can sound nearly identical to a top piano, the obvious difference is that the electronic keyboard can mimic other instruments, or create a more synthesized sound in general.

Last night highlighted a much more significant difference between the two. Greg was about to play one of his songs and Ian was set to accompany him on the piano (electronic variety). Greg turned to Ian and apologized, telling him that he was going to play it one fret down from where they normally do.

I’m sure that there are piano players out there who can transpose a piece in their heads, and nail it. It’s not something I would want to even consider. Ian just smiled and said “No problem!”. He made one tiny adjustment on the keyboards, and transposed electronically, while being able to play in the key he was familiar with. Do that on a real piano! 🙂

They performed four songs each and one all together at the end, making a total of 17 numbers (a superb set, lasting just under 110 minutes!). Song selection was wonderful all around. Now that I’m thinking about it, they might have played five each, for a total of 21, but I wouldn’t swear to it (at least not in court).

Each of them has wonderful stage presence. Greg got the audience to sing along on two of his numbers (including Bar on A, the last one that all four of them did together). Ian felt that he was rambling in introducing a song and said “Perhaps I shouldn’t talk.” The crowd resoundingly implored him to keep talking! 🙂

Here they all are singing Bar on A:

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ambeR asked for one request, got three separate responses (In the Creases from Lois, Rough Cut and Novacaine). All three choices are awesome, and Lois withdrew her request and ambeR played Rough Cut (one of two songs she played using Ian’s keyboards, which makes me more confident that they played five songs each).

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Ian knocked us out as he has from the first time we saw him. For his third number he played his current sensation, the title cut from his new CD called This is the New Year. You can lift your spirit by watching this YouTube video of This is the New Year. It has over 39,000 views already (Lois swears she doesn’t account for more than 1,000 of them) 😉 though she has sent the link to everyone she knows, and all of these views are just in one month!

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Greg Holden sang the part that Chad Vaccarino normally sings. Greg did a fantastic job, but I admit that my ears are attuned to hearing Chad’s voice in that spot, and it took me a few seconds to adjust.

Our friend @HappyBee3 saw the show the night before in Rockwood and told us that she was moved to tears when Ian sang Say Something. Last night he performed it too, on the ukulele (like he did the night before), but ambeR, Greg and Joey all sang harmony with him. The song is moving enough, but with 4-part harmony, all the more!

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After Ian sang Gone (another moving song), Lois was nearly in tears (notice the trend from the night before?). Then Amber took to Ian’s keyboards and performed a song we hadn’t heard her play live before, and Lois achieved real tears. They all joked that Joey better pick a more up-beat song. He asked whether a song about cancer would qualify? In other words, lots of deeply emotional lyrics last night.

Joey Ryan is the only one that we hadn’t seen perform (he’s based in L.A.). He has a really beautiful voice, with an extraordinary range for a guy. He sings in the lower registers when it’s his song (for the most part), but he hits incredibly high notes, very cleanly, when he harmonizes with Greg and ambeR.

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Joey plays the guitar beautifully, finger picking a storm. He writes complex lyrics that I’ll have to listen to a number of times until they’re ingrained. Toward that end, we bought both Joey’s brand new EP, Kenter Canyon and his previous full-length CD, With its Roots Above and its Branches Below. I’m listening now while typing this. Lovely! 🙂

We already own Greg Holden’s CD and EP, and Ian’s EP and CD, and ambeR’s CD/EP and The Paper Raincoat EP/CD as well. 🙂

Lois picked up a second Ian Axel T-Shirt last night. She was wearing her green one and bought a purple one.

While all four have great stage presence and are all pretty funny, I have to give a shout out to Joey for being the driest of them. He delivers his wit so soft-spokenly, so understated, expressionless (most times), that you might be tempted to think he was being serious. Don’t fall for it! He’s just flat out clever, funny and quick!

We didn’t worry whether it would be worth the long round-trip drive. What we couldn’t be sure of was how great this particular show would be. It was excellent in every respect.

All four of them were on for each of their songs, all four meshed together perfectly. The venue is intimate. The sound was perfect, with one notable exception. For a good part of the evening, they couldn’t get the feedback from ambeR’s guitar pickups to stop. It wasn’t that distracting for us, but ambeR was a trooper for plowing through it!

The audience was exceptional as well. They knew these artists well even though none are from Philly, were quiet during the songs but really loud and long in their applause after each number. They also lined up at the merch table afterward to buy stuff and say hi. It felt good to be part of it. Thanks Philly fans, you too made the drive worthwhile!

But wait, there’s more!

The drive down was spectacular. We were bathed in a stunning and seemingly never-ending sunset.

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We ate dinner at Serrano, the excellent restaurant below Tin Angel. If you have a dinner reservation, they hold a table for you at Tin Angel above. The food and service at Serrano is so good (both times we were there) that we wouldn’t consider going to Tin Angel without dining at Serrano first.

Lucky for us, we’ll see all four of theses wonderful musicians this Monday night (Jan 25th) at City Winery, where they are part of a spectacular lineup of indie artists who are putting on a benefit to raise money for Haiti.

Ian Axel at Rockwood Music Hall

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The title of this post is as big a surprise to me as it is to you. 😉

When we planned our evening last night (a couple of weeks ago), I was unaware that Ian Axel was scheduled to play at Rockwood Music Hall, and was unaware of his music. Our plan was to see Greg Holden at 8pm (our first time seeing him) and then running a few blocks away to Arlene’s Grocery to see Atomic Tom for the first time as well. The best laid plans…

The night before (Thursday), we were also at Rockwood, to see ambeR Rubarth and we caught most of the set before her, Chris Kasper and Ross Bellenoit. Adam Christgau, who was drumming for ambeR, mentioned that he would be drumming for Greg Holden the next night (we knew that, which is why we were interested in seeing Greg’s show to begin with), but he also mentioned that he’d be drumming for Ian Axel immediately thereafter.

Hmmm, that made me listen to Ian Axel’s MySpace page and I liked what I heard. We were now leaning toward hanging at Rockwood, especially if we had one of the few seats in the place, rather than chance being shut out at Arlene’s Grocery.

I’ll come back and describe the rest of the evening’s musicians and logistics after covering our experience of Ian’s set.

Wow!

OK, I covered it! Seriously! We were both blown away by Ian in every respect. He’s an absolutely phenomenal piano player. He has an excellent voice (more on that in a bit). He writes interesting songs (melody, lyrics, arrangements). He delivers them with tremendous energy and showmanship. He connects with the crowd. He’s funny.

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On his up-beat pop numbers he was accompanied by Adam Christgau on  the drums and Chris Anderson on electric bass. Both were excellent, and both sang harmony a bit.

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Adam has always impressed me (as I’ve written a number of times) but even more so last night, after seeing him play with Greg and Ian, adding more styles than is required to support The Paper Raincoat and ambeR’s music. He’s a super talented drummer (and singer) that adds to any artist he’s supporting!

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In addition to those high energy numbers, Ian also played a few solos on the piano, ballads, and he played one solo on the ukulele, which was more mellow.

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He told a story that when he started out, he really didn’t consider singing. A friend of his, Chad Vaccarino kept pressing him to sing, telling him that he was destined to be a singer. Obviously, Chad got to him, and we are all grateful that he did!

Apparently, roughly the same time that Ian started singing, Chad stopped performing (Ian didn’t explain why). Until earlier this week, when Chad performed at Rockwood (on Monday), and according to Ian, killed it! After telling the story, Ian invited Chad up on the stage to sing a song with him. Excellent!

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Ian’s a definite follow around whenever we can.

Toward the end of the set, Ian mentioned that he hopes to get his new CD out by the end of the year. In the meantime, he had a 6-song EP that he offered to give away to anyone who came to find him at the end of the show. He allowed for the fact that some people might wish to donate instead of just taking it for free. 🙂

In addition to being generous in the Tip Jar that was passed around for Ian, Lois found him after the show, and donated $20 for two copies of the EP. We enjoyed it on the ride back to the house this morning.

Working backwards musically, appearing before Ian was Greg Holden, the primary reason we were at Rockwood to begin with. I mentioned Greg in a post about Cardboard Bikini (a.k.a. The Paper Raincoat), where he stood right behind me at Rockwood for one of their shows. After that show, both Adam Christgau and Alex Berger told me that I really needed to catch Greg’s show.

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The next morning, he left on a six-week tour opening for Ingrid Michaelson, all over the country. I started following him on Twitter right away, and I enjoyed his snarky updates and got a feel for the tour through his eyes.

He also has a song that will be featured on this week’s episode of Private Practice on ABC, so he’s well on his way to a career in the music biz.

I thoroughly enjoyed his set, though clearly not enough to have bumped Ian from the title of the post, hence my own surprise.

Greg played the acoustic guitar well. On his more energetic numbers, he was accompanied by Adam Christgau on the drums, a bassist whose name I didn’t catch and Ian Axel on the piano.

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You already know how I feel about Adam and Ian, so I’ll just mention that the bassist was really good too. It was even more impressive when Greg mentioned that he was pressed into duty at the last minute, and had to learn the three songs (perhaps even that day!). I tweeted Greg last night asking his name, but haven’t heard back yet.

Update: Greg just tweeted that the bassist was Jon Estes! Thanks Greg.

He has a very relaxed style on stage, with good audience rapport. He played a cover of Walking on Sunshine, where he easily got the entire crowd to sing along, loudly. He’s also very funny (both on Twitter and in person).

Greg also played a few solo numbers (including Walking on Sunshine). He has a really good voice, and writes interesting songs. If I had to tweak him a bit, I’d say that a number of songs achieve their length by being a little too repetitive. They’re still good, but I have no doubt that he can do better, and I’m sure he will.

According to him, he took a major gamble this past January and moved to the US from the UK to launch a music career from scratch. Obviously, he’s achieved so much in so little time. Still, I have a feeling that he will continue to grow dramatically, likely at a rapid pace as well, so I look forward to tracking his career.

As with the night before, when we discovered Chris Kasper, I checked out who would be on before Greg, in the hopes that if it were someone good, we’d have a better chance of having a seat for Greg, while still enjoying the set. This week is the CMJ Showcase all over NYC, so many shows are more crowded than they might otherwise be, due to the extra publicity and press.

Edie Carey was on from 7-8pm. I listened to a few of the songs on her website and liked what I heard. Also, I noticed that she was on the last Cayamo cruise (she’s going again in March 2010), and in addition to all of the major stars that perform on that, our very own Girlyman went on last year’s cruise as well. So, I was officially intrigued.

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We walked in at 6:43pm to a jam-packed crowd listening to the group that was on from 6-7pm (I’ll describe our brief encounter with them after saying a bit more about Edie).

With a ton of luck, and some very nice people, when the set before Edie ended, Lois was able to get a seat, and a few minutes later, I was able to snag one right next to her (absolutely incredible given how crowded the place was).

Edie has a wonderful voice, which she controls really well, delivering power when she wants, and whispers at other times. She accompanies herself well on the guitar, mostly rhythm, with occasional finger-picking thrown in.

She describes her song-writing style as overwhelmingly dark (she’s right). She has an incredibly devoted fan base. Most of the people in the crowd for her set were there specifically for her. When she asked for requests, I was amazed at how many people started yelling, and how many different songs they were trying to get her to play!

One guy, standing in the very far corner, whom she called Vincent, yelled “Nice!” as she finished each song, cueing the exuberant clapping.

All of that is to say that for a large number of folks, Edie Carey is magic. She moves their souls. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that reaction. While both of us thought her voice was excellent, and her stage presence was good, the songs did very little for us. The comment that I used above saying that Greg was a bit repetitive could be multiplied for Edie.

Both of us felt that every song was overly repetitive, but since she’s singing mostly extremely slow, dark, dirges, the effect is worse than in a catchy up-beat song, where at least the repeating hook is fun.

There was nothing unpleasant about the set, and the plan to find a seat during her show and be settled in for Greg and Ian worked out better than I could have hoped, but she’s not someone that we would seek out in the future.

She told one story about writing a song for her wedding (she was married in May 2009, and her husband sat a few feet away from us). The story was warm and engaging, and it was the only time during her set that I was 100% captivated and attentive. Unfortunately, the song itself, not so much…

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Since we walked in at 6:43pm, we got to hear the last two songs of the set before Edie.

The Uglysuit had a packed crowd (as I mentioned before), and from what we heard, fully deserved! Three electric guitars, one electric bass, grand piano, and drums. That’s about as many people as you can cram on to the tiny Rockwood stage. In fact, they couldn’t! The drummer never sits on stage, and in this case, the bassist was in the crowd too, taking up the space where two people would normally be sitting.

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They have a gorgeous, rich sound. They sing well too, but they jam for much longer stretches than they sing. I would have been extremely happy to catch the rest of their set, and will look out for them in the future, though they hail from OK and tour all around. They’re playing today at 3:30pm at Kenny’s Castaways, but we’re already at the house.

I’ll use them as a specific example of a point I want to make about Rockwood in general.

At a number of venues, including some of our favorites, Sound Engineering can be hit-or-miss. Even at our favorite club, Joe’s Pub, on occasion (thankfully not too often), the sound can be downright bad.

Rockwood has nailed it for every set we’ve seen so far. What’s more impressive is the range of instruments and styles and number of people on stage, etc., that they consistently nail it for.

Using The Uglysuit as an example, three electric guitars, an electric bass, grand piano, drums, and two people singing, typically, something is too loud, or something can’t be heard. Simply not the case at Rockwood. Even with all of that music going on, the volume was appropriate, and each instrument was clear. It’s a crying shame that this isn’t the case for every show at every venue.

I stand in awe of the two people who run the sound for the sets we’ve seen at Rockwood, one of whom we believe is the owner. Absolutely incredible.

If we could be assured of always getting a seat, I hazard to guess that it might even surpass Joe’s Pub as a favorite destination for us, though some of the groups that we see at Joe’s wouldn’t play a place as small (or free!) as Rockwood.