Derek James

Derek James at Rockwood Music Hall

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Derek James headlined Rockwood Music Hall at midnight last night.

DerekJamesSinging

Q: When you’re his self-anointed #1 fan, and he’s listed at midnight, and you would do whatever you can to see him perform, what drastic action do you take?

A: Nap!

Yes, good plan, I did indeed nap yesterday afternoon and it paid off big-time. It was so crowded at Rockwood that I had to stand for the entire set (somewhat rare nowadays, especially for a midnight set). That turned out to be a blessing. I wasn’t falling asleep, and I couldn’t stop moving to the rhythms anyway.

The set was perfect! I’d be thrilled to have that exact set repeated (on demand) any time I could. Any further description will detract from the actual experience, though I’m going to do it, if only for my own memory (I’ll know how much better it was than your interpretation of my words). Winking smile

I’ve seen Derek quite a number of times, across a multitude of lineups, acoustic and electrified. Not all combinations of The Lovely Fools (the generic name for Derek’s band) work as well as others. I honestly thought that the original (at least original from when I discovered Derek), Roy Gurel and Assaf Spector would not be topped.

The most recent iteration (which I think is Derek’s default, go-to band), came really close. Close enough for me to honestly stop pining for Roy and Assie to return. There was one change in that band last night, due to the bass player, Mike Tuccillo, being on the road supporting Jenny Owen Youngs. I am thoroughly happy with Mike’s play (supporting Jenny as well as Derek), but I admit, I was even happier with the replacement.

Derek was great on the guitar and his vocals were crystal clear. I’ve complained a time or two that at Rockwood 1, sometimes Derek’s vocals get washed out a bit. His energy was high, which was important, because it would have been difficult to satisfy the anticipation and enthusiasm in the room if he wasn’t totally on.

DerekJamesGuitar

Derek was supported by an extraordinary band, left-to-right on stage:

Jerry Fuentes on electric guitar and vocals. I’ve just recently written about an excellent performance by Jerry of his own music (which you can support at his PledgeMusic page). Jerry is a fabulous guitar player, and Derek’s music highlights it just the right amount. Jerry also sings a bunch of harmony with Derek, wonderfully!

JerryFuentesJerryFuentesGuitar

Chris Anderson on electric bass and light vocals. Chris substituted for Mike. As many bassists as I see and like, there’s little doubt that we see Chris more often than any other. In fact, we just saw him earlier that evening supporting Burlap to Cashmere, a group we discovered only because we’ll go see anyone Chris is playing with!

ChrisAndersonDerekJamesChrisAnderson

So, if Derek had called me to suggest someone to fill in for Mike, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say Chris. Derek didn’t call Sad smile but he made the right decision anyway! Smile Chris was fantastic! Like with Jerry, Derek’s music highlights the bass player dramatically. Assaf was so good at this particular role that I was afraid anyone else would be a letdown. Chris did not let me down.

ChrisAndersonHavingFun

Jamie Alegre on drums (again, no good individual link). If you believe me that Derek’s music brings out the best in a guitarist and a bassist, then you better believe me that the drummer is critical to the sound. Jamie’s beats were rocking the crowd throughout.

JamieAlegreJamieAlegreDrums

When the set was over, the lights were off and the band was already unplugging. The last thing they were expecting, or looking for, was an encore. The crowd had a different notion entirely. They were chanting one more song, repeatedly. The sound engineer (Drew) gave Derek the go-ahead, and they plugged back in. Derek said that this would be a crazy number and everyone better dance.

DrewTheSoundEngineer

Well, I can’t say that everyone danced, because I know all I did was sway. But, I can attest that a few people started dancing seriously (and vigorously) right near me, and that turned into a full blown conga line. Rockwood 1 is tiny to begin with, and it was so crowded you had to be careful not to hit your neighbor if you took a deep breath. And yet, somehow, a reasonably long conga line made a couple of back-and-forths in there. It was a thing to behold.

Dancing

Most of the staff at Rockwood (both rooms) are wonderful people. Good at what they do, but nice and interesting as well. At the very top of that heap is the person who served us the very first time we set foot in Rockwood, back in 2009!

Christina Shipp is an actress as well as an efficient contortionist, working her way through the Rockwood crowd to serve drinks, pick up the empties, pass around the tip jar and generally make the entire experience more pleasant for everyone in the room. It may sound silly, but Lois and I look forward to seeing her as much as we do seeing whatever artist we are showing up for. After all, we’ve had a three-year relationship with Christina. Smile

ChristinaShipp

Bed at 2am last night, but no worries, the nap saved the day (or night as the case may be!).

Here’s the set list (encore not included):

SetList

Here are a few of our friends hanging out with us outside of Rockwood, waiting for Derek’s set to begin:

KevinSamTeichmanTerry

Man, next to Rebecca Haviland, my head is a giant melon:

RebeccaHavilandHadar

Tony Maceli Full Vinyl Tribute to Talking Heads and Alanis Morissette at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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That title is a mouthful. Just typing it out has taken the wind out of me. But, it’s descriptive and accurate, so I’m going with it.

Note: There are no photos in this post yet. We’re running to Rockwood now for a 6pm show and I barely finished the words. Tomorrow morning I’ll add in a ton of photos and tweet the link out again, for those that might want to revisit the post to see it in its correct glory! I’ll delete this paragraph when I update the post with the photos.

Tony Maceli is one of the top bass players in the NYC indie music scene. Some months ago, he started organizing a regular mega-show called Full Vinyl. Last night was the first one we were able to attend, so I don’t know whether we’ve missed one or two. I also don’t know whether the format is always the same (or going to be). This show was at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2.

TonyMaceli

It was such a massive (fast moving) show, that I would be doing an injustice to multiple people if I tried to cover it the way I do normal sets. Most importantly, I’d be doing myself the massive injustice of sitting here and typing for the next few days. In other words, it isn’t going to happen.

I’ll give a high-level description, call out a few people (which is no slight on anyone that doesn’t get a separate shout-out), then do my best to at least give a link to every person who was on stage. There’s little doubt that I’ll miss someone, or not be able to identify someone (or their site). No omission is intentional, and whenever someone (cough, cough, Tony?) corrects me (public corrections are fine), I’ll update the post to reflect it.

The format last night was Talking Heads first (lead singers were all boys, with one very notable exception). To close out the Talking Heads portion, all lead singers return to the stage at the same time and each sings a piece of the finale, the uber-famous Psycho Killer. Each individual number had numerous band members swapping in and out on each song.

PsychoKillerFinale

Michelle Cassilas was the sole female lead singer during this part of the evening. She’s the head of the band Ursa Minor, writing their songs, singing lead vocals and playing guitar. She can certainly rock it out, so having her in the boys portion of the evening was just fine.

Here’s the set list for the Talking Heads portion. The order wasn’t strictly maintained because a few people (Jerry Fuentes and Derek James in particular) were still playing their set next door when it would have been their turn:

SetList1

Under each song you’ll see the band members that were slated to play (at least their last names). The first name listed was the primary lead singer for that song.

One male singer couldn’t make it due to illness (if Tony said who it was, I missed it). A last minute substitute was recruited, the amazing Robbie Gil. He’s not listed on the set list, because I think Tony already knew about the illness before he printed the sheets. I might be remembering this incorrectly, but I think that Robbie sang Burning Down the House, which has Greg Mayo listed as lead singer (which would have been a second lead for Mayo).

Tony Maceli opened the show. I missed most of his song because I was next door watching Jerry Fuentes and Derek James (I already posted about that show). A friend texted me when this show began and I waited until Jerry and Derek finished their current song to scoot over. I caught the last full verse of Tony singing.

TonyMaceliSinging

I then heard Tony sing a full verse during Psycho Killer. Folks, I’ve heard Tony sing before (rarely) and I praised him. Those previous times were nothing compared to last night. He really opened up his vocals and did a fantastic job. Perhaps he decided to put on these shows just to give himself a vehicle to sing for the rest of us. If that’s the case, I approve. Smile

On to the second half of the show. This time, the ladies were in control and the subject matter was Alanis Morissette. The format was the same, including all of the lads joining for the finale, Ironic, but you’ll notice that three of the woman sang two different songs on the lead. Here’s the set list for the ladies:

SetList2

I was never a Talking Heads fan, though songs like Psycho Killer are burned in my memory (was anything else played on the radio when that first came out?). Watching these people playing those 11 songs did not change that. For the most part, those songs don’t do it for me at all. But, watching these people play those songs (or practically anything), was truly thrilling. I don’t say that just because I love most of them (as people as well as musicians), but because the performance was simply that good. I still wouldn’t want to listen to any of it at home, without the energy in the room.

The Alanis Morissette portion, totally different story. Even though my eyes were droopy and I was yawning,  the second half was amazing, each song. It wasn’t that the women performed it any better than the men (they didn’t, both groups nailed their parts). It’s just that Alanis Morissette is a dramatically better songwriter for my taste.

Here’s the photo of the ladies’ finale:

IronicFinale

We left Rockwood at 2am (sheesh). Not for one second did I consider leaving early.

Before listing out as many people as I can find, I want to write out some incredibly subjective, almost silly thoughts. Not because I want to (or believe I can) sway anyone’s opinion. I just want to remember exactly how I felt and this is the best way. One more caveat. There wasn’t a single weak performance last night (seriously, I’m not sparing anyone’s feelings, you just have to trust me on that). So, by calling out anyone, it would be a major mistake on your part to assume that there was a vast difference between the people I’m mentioning and the people I’m not.

Last time, the following observations are entirely my personal opinions. I’m not casting them as facts. If these people delivered a level-10 performance, then the worst of the rest delivered a 9, with the average being 9.5+.

Josh Dion was the most thrilling male performer. When his song was done, I turned to anyone in my vicinity and said “Josh can only be described by one word: Excitement”.

JoshDion

Misty Boyce was mind-boggling in her lead, but she was also the primary harmony vocalist with both the males and females. She also played keyboards and melodica. I’ve seen Misty sing background with Bess Rogers before, and I’ve wanted to see her own sets (and came really close twice, including earlier this week), but this was my first time seeing her take center stage. She grabbed it and didn’t let go until we were all reduced to a puddle.

MistyBoyce

When her song was over, my friend leaned over and said: “Hard to imagine that she isn’t going to blow up one of these days!” (my friends and I are obviously gangsta, holla, in case you mistook that for being a bad thing!). Winking smile

Finally, let’s try to get everyone’s full name (with links if I can find them). I’ll do the male leads first, then the female leads, then the band members. And…… GO:

Tony Maceli, already covered. He also played bass on many of the songs, always his forte.

TonyMaceliBass

Greg Mayo, in addition to singing lead, Greg played electric and acoustic guitars on a majority of the numbers. He sang the most harmony by a male (even on the Alanis set). Even when he wasn’t singing in the mic, Greg was silently singing every word of every Alanis Morissette song. He’s clearly a big fan!

GregMayoSingingGregMayoElectricGuitarGregMayoAcousticGuitar

Scott Chasolen, in addition to singing lead, played the electronic keyboards on that song. He was great!

ScottChasolen

Jerry Fuentes, already discussed above, sang and played smoking lead guitar.

Derek James sang with Jerry Fuentes as part of Jerry’s number.

JerryFuentesDerekJamesMasonIngram

Michelle Casillas, also mentioned above. Great! (I’m going to stick with great, so no one reads into me trying to simply mix up my superlatives.)

MichelleCasillas

Chris Cubeta, I’ve heard about Chris for a while now, mostly as a producer (he produced the upcoming The Vanity Belles CD). This was my first time laying eyes on him and I was very impressed with his voice and guitar play. Misty Boyce sang harmony with him in near-lockstep. They sounded great together.

ChrisCubeta

Update:

Daniel Lanzetta was not listed on either set list, so I missed him the first time I posted this. When I added the photos, I realized my error. He joined Chris Cubeta and did the spoken parts of Once in a Lifetime (of which there are many).

DanielLanzetta

End Update.

Zach Jones, in addition to singing lead, also drummed for a good bit of each set. This is the first time we’ve ever seen Zach hatless. It turns out, that contrary to popular belief, he doesn’t get his superpowers from his hat, because he was great without it yesterday, both singing and drumming. Smile

ZachJonesSingingZachJonesDrumsZachJonesGuitar

Josh Dion. Already asked and answered! I’ll just mention that he was drumming while he was singing, but if you’ve heard of Josh Dion, then you probably guessed that already (you couldn’t have been sure, because he’s great on the keyboards too!).

JoshDionPaulAmorese

Robbie Gil, also mentioned above. Great!

RobbieGilSpencerCohen

Casey Shea not only was great (see, I’m not varying my adjectives in this section), but he also came off the stage, laid down on a table in front of it, and serenaded a woman within inches of her face. Let me think who that was… Oh yeah, it was Lois! Smile

CaseySheaCaseySheaJamieAlegreMattBasilePatrickFirthMistyBoyceCaseyShea

On to the female leads (remember, three of them sang twice, so their list will be shorter):

Jamie Rae, sang lead on two songs. She’s listed as Raeya on Tony’s set list. I think she recently started a new solo project under that moniker. Great!

JamieRae

Misty Boyce, I want to repeat what I said above, but I’ll restrain myself.

MistyBoyceMelodica

Lelia Broussard, sang lead on two songs. She also danced around a bunch and raised the already high energy level higher as a result. Great!

LeliaBroussard

Charlene Kaye, in addition to singing lead, also sang harmony with a few others. Great!

CharleneKaye

Emily Long, sang lead, and was one of the people that Charlene Kay sang with. The two of them are in a Guns N’ Roses cover band called Guns N’ Hoses. Emily was great!

EmilyLong

Mighty Kate (Katy Pfaffl), sang lead on one song. What a change-up from her own music which we saw just this past Monday (here’s my post raving about her). Great!

MightyKateMightyKateMistyBoyce

Julia Haltigan, sang lead on one song. She too was great! She was recently at Rockwood for her own set, and will be again next week, but beside that, she’s performing soon at The Kennedy Center in Washington. No biggie, I’m sure. Winking smile

JuliaHaltiganJuliaHaltiganSteveWilliams

Dallin Applebaum, sang lead on two songs. Great!

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Onward, to the unsung (get it?) folks who supported the above, in the most amazing fashion (I’m not going to repeat the ones who sang, but separately played an instrument on many other songs):

Patrick Firth on electronic keyboards and light vocals. He really wailed on the synth/organ sounds. Great!

PatrickFirth

Jeremy Goldsmith on electric guitar. We’re about to see him in a couple of hours, supporting Jesse Terry at Rockwood. I’m looking forward to seeing him again, because, wait for it, he was great last night! Smile

JeremyGoldsmith

Brian Killeen on electric bass. I had just seen Brian Killeen kill it on an earlier set supporting John Schmitt (post is here) and got to watch him do it again with this group. Great!

BrianKilleen

Ben Zwerin on electric bass. Great!

BenZwerin

Paul Amorese on drums. Great!

PaulAmorese

Matt Simons on electronic keyboards and light vocals. I just saw Matt Simons on the same set with Brian Killeen, supporting John Schmitt. Great!

MattSimons

Mason Ingram on drums. I’ve seen Mason once before, supporting Alec Gross. He was impressive that night. The music was radically different last night, with Mason being equally impressive. Great!

MasonIngram

Steven Elliot on electric guitar. Great!

StevenElliot

Rob Jost on electric bass. Great!

RobJost

Robert DiPietro on drums. I’m pretty sure they called him Rob last night, but the link says Robert, so I’ll stick with that. Great!

RobDiPietro

Both Robs (Jost and DiPietro) are in Ursa Minor with Michelle Casillas and they supported her when she sang lead.

Matt Aranoff on electric bass. Great!

MattAranoff

Ryan Vaughn on drums. Great! I ran into Ryan at John Schmitt’s set and told him that I personally blamed him for keeping us up way past our bedtime. Meaning, we really like catching sets when Ryan is drumming.

RyanVaughn

Spencer Cohen on drums and cowbell. Yes, Spencer is a master percussionist, including playing a naked cowbell, center stage! Great!

SpencerCohenCowbell

John Kengla on electric bass. Great!

Update: I just looked through the photos and not only can’t I find one with John Kengla, the song he was supposed to play on, Heaven, sung by Zach Jones, has Tony Maceli playing on it. So, no photo, and he might not even have been there. Oops.

Rob Heath on drums. Great!

RobHeath

Dan Tirer on electric guitar. Also great, but I’ll add that this was my first time seeing him, and I was particularly impressed. In fact, Lois, who doesn’t pay as much attention to certain instruments as I do, turned to me and commented on how good she thought he was.

DanTirer

Matt Basile on electric bass. Matt always delivers, great!

MattBasile

Jamie Alegre on drums. Great!

JamieAlegre

Steve Williams on drums. I saw Steve once before, supporting Julia Haltigan. He was great that night and again last night!

SteveWilliams

Jeff Litman on acoustic guitar. Great!

JeffLitman

Wow, can’t believe I got through the list, with or without mistakes. Yay me! Smile

Jerry Fuentes and Derek James at Rockwood Music Hall

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Jerry Fuentes headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall. We’ve seen Jerry headline only once, over a year ago, so this was a show I’ve been looking forward to for a while.

Jerry’s finalizing a new CD as I type this. In fact, if you agree with me that Jerry’s talent should be shared with a wider audience, you can help by pledging on his PledgeMusic campaign.

What’s Jerry’s secret sauce? Amazing guitar player, excellent voice, unreal energy on stage, catchy songs. Not bad, right?

Jerry played the entire set (or rather the part that I was able to attend, more on that below) on an acoustic guitar. This was the first time I’ve seen him handle one, and it was putty in his hands. Not all lead electric guitarists can make similar magic happen on an acoustic, Jerry can.

JerryFuentes

He played songs from his upcoming CD. I’ve already pledged, so I’m tapping my fingers waiting for it to arrive.

I mentioned above that I’ve only seen Jerry headline once. That doesn’t mean that I’ve only seen him play once. He’s been the lead guitarist for another favorite of mine twice, each time delivering the goods.

Derek James is that person, and Jerry returned the favor by inviting Derek to join him, turning it into a duo show, but still Jerry’s songs.

DerekJames

Derek sang harmony (wonderfully), played the guitar (12-string acoustic) and a synth. I overheard someone in the audience saying the synth was preloaded with Chad Vaccarino’s voice, and only because I heard that, did I believe it to be true when Derek played it. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

DerekJamesSetup

I’m Derek James’ self-anointed #1 fan (whether he, or any of his other fans like it!), so it’s always a special treat to go to someone else’s show and get a taste of Derek in the process.

As much as I was enjoying the set, I had posted on the event page in advance that I wouldn’t be able to stay until the end. That’s because there was a blow-out show next door that I wanted to attend. Given the nature of the show, missing a single song meant missing one local superstar or another (and I wouldn’t know who in advance). To make matters worse, Jerry’s set started 30 minutes late.

I still got four full songs in (all excellent) before I got the text that the show next door had begun (thanks to my unpaid spy).

The super extra good news? Jerry and Derek came next door after their set and sang the lead on one of the songs in the blow-out show, with Jerry back on electric guitar. Jerry also accompanied others on the electric on a few additional numbers. Sweet!

Backscratch XVII at Rockwood Music Hall

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Last night we attended the early show at Joe’s Pub. Under normal circumstances, we would have run home after the show. These were not normal circumstances. Over at Rockwood Music Hall, timed perfectly for us, was Backscratch XVII. That would have been more than enough to get us to stay out for another few hours.

More poignantly, and most unfortunately, this was also billed as the last NYC-based Backscratch. Folks, that’s simply a tragedy (of reasonably large proportions). The concept of Backscratch was originated by Martin Rivas (and I think Craig Meyer). It will live on in London, run by Alex Berger, but unless I can find a way to blackmail Martin (or twist his arm really hard), it’s going to be very expensive to catch one of these shows in the future.

MartinRivas

In addition to just wanting to catch any Backscratch show, the lineup for last night was particularly tasty. Every performer was particularly sharp (they understood the stakes), so it ended up being an extra-special night all around.

Quick recap of what a Backscratch is: 6-9 performers. Each does three numbers. One has to be a cover of one of the other performers. They get drawn randomly and no one knows in advance who is doing their song. For the other two numbers, deep tradition has the artist performing one of their originals plus a well-known cover. More recently, many artists perform two originals.

Stephanie White and the Philth Harmonic were up first. The Philth Harmonic is Robbie LaFalce (considering that Stephanie’s name appears separately and there are only two of them). Let’s start with Stephanie. We’ve seen her sing one song, at one of Sam Techman’s Leave a Lasting Mark benefit shows. She was extraordinary then, and again last night. The woman can sing, pure and simple.

RobbieLaFalceStephanieWhite

We’ve seen Robbie LaFalce three times, all at Sam Teichman benefits. At the first, he drummed. The second, he played piano. The third, he drummed, played piano, and sang. Last night, he played the electric guitar on all three numbers. Beautiful play, subtly, but interestingly supporting Stephanie.

RobbieLaFalce

This was the first time that we saw them play together, as the Philth Harmonic.

Unlike most Backscratch performers, they chose to do their cover as the middle number (there are no hard-and-fast rules). They drew The Vanity Belles. I am not familiar enough with the VB version to tell you how much Stephanie morphed it, but I can tell you that Stephanie was exceptional in performing her version.

On one of the numbers, Robbie added a percussion loop and some looping of him clapping and playing guitar. It created a much bigger sound than the two of them would otherwise have.

Morgan Karr was up next. I had never seen him before. He kicked it off on the grand piano, playing beautifully, but really, showing off a great voice. For the next number, he came to center stage and just sang (he had accompaniment) without playing any instrument. Again, his voice really shone and I really liked his songs as well.

MorganKarrPiano

For his backscratch, he sang accompanied by only an upright bass. He drew Jay Stolar. Again, I wasn’t familiar with Jay’s song, but Morgan nailed his rendition of it, hitting some high notes spectacularly.

MorganKarrSinging

Morgan was accompanied by two top-notch musicians:

Justin Goldner on acoustic guitar. I’ve seen Justin a number of times, mostly playing bass for Bri Arden and Sam’s benefits. I also saw him play acoustic guitar for a very intimate performance of Bri’s. He blows me away on the bass, but hadn’t on the acoustic guitar that one time. Last night, supporting Morgan, he showed a lot more skill on the acoustic guitar.

JustinGoldner

Lorenzo Wolff on upright bass. Very good on the first two numbers. On the backscratch, he was the sole accompaniment (Justin sat that one out and Morgan sang). Hearing just a bass with a great vocalist really highlights how good (or not) the bass player is. Lorenzo is really good! Smile

LorenzoWolff

Abby Ahmad was up next. Another first for me. Great voice, very interesting guitar play. I really liked her songs as well. In other words, someone I intend to go see doing a full set soon (she’s playing Rockwood on Thursday at 11pm, but that might be too late for me that night).

AbbyAhmad

For her backscratch, she drew Morgan Karr. Another winner (both the song and her rendition).

Abb

Abby was accompanied by two extremely talented people:

Adam Minkoff on electric bass and floor tom. On Abby’s first number, Adam took the floor tom from the drum kit and brought it up on stage. He and the drummer (up next) played together, mostly on the rims first (in unison) and then separately, creating an extraordinary jungle rhythm for Abby to sing to.

AdamMinkoffSeanDixon

For the next two numbers, Adam switched to his more usual electric bass, and of course, was his usual excellent self.

AdamMinkoffBass

Sean Dixon on drums (again, no good link for him). This was my second time seeing Sean, and again he was excellent. In addition to playing the drum kit (minus the floor tom which Adam swiped, he also played the djembe on one number, beautifully. In fact, he put the djembe where the floor tom would have been. Not sure where else he could have placed it otherwise. Smile

SeanDixon

Jay Stolar was up next. We’ve never seen Jay do his own stuff, but have seen him sing a song here and there (as a guest, and at a benefit concert). He has a superb voice which was in full effect last night and played the acoustic guitar. I really enjoyed his two songs.

JayStolar

He drew Derek James for his backscratch. He chose Mama Said (it helps that I’m Derek James’ biggest fan, self-declared, so that I at least know which song Jay was covering). He played it so much slower than Derek does, but it totally worked. I’ll still take Derek’s version, but huge Kudos to Jay for creative arrangement and execution!

Jason Wexler accompanied Jay Stolar on his two numbers, sitting out the backscratch. Jason was superb on the grand piano. It started off in a funny manner. Jay began by picking on one or two notes, repeatedly, in a slow rhythmic manner, alone, no singing and no piano accompaniment. After a minute, Jay turned to Jason and said “Feel free to join in any time!”. Winking smile

JasonWexler

Jason laughed and immediately launched into a fantastic series of piano leads. Satisfied, Jay started singing. Smile

Derek James was up next. This was the first time I’ve seen Derek solo. I loved both of his numbers, which he dedicated to Terry. He kicked it off with What’s That Sound from his first CD, Stray. In a small-world story, I didn’t have that CD (though I’ve seen Derek perform the song a number of times), but Lois had secretly arranged with Derek in advance to purchase the CD last night, so I have it now! Smile

DerekJames

I was totally satisfied with Derek’s solo performance, but I admit that with the full band, there’s a swagger that was missing last night.

Derek drew Stephanie and the Philth Harmonic for his backscratch and did a beautiful job. Another example of me not knowing the original, so I can’t compare the versions.

The final act to close down the NYC-based backscratches (unless I have my way with Martin!) were The Vanity Belles. I’ve mentioned how much I love them a number of times, even though the first time I’ve ever seen them perform live, as themselves, was just this past Wednesday at a benefit show.

They were stripped down last night, the two Belles, Carrie Welling and Jessi Rae Waltz, accompanied by the amazing Oscar Bautista on acoustic guitar (they typically have a full band).

OscarBautistaTheVanityBelles

They opened with a brand new song that so blew me away I can’t find the words to describe it. I happened to be standing next to their manager, Patryk Larney, and I couldn’t contain myself after the song. I turned to him and said: “Holy cow, that was absolutely extraordinary!”.

He said that he agreed, and they just finished it and rushed to get it on the new CD (of which I am a very proud Kickstarter contributor). I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that I will soon own this song.

CarrieWellingJessiRaeWaltzOscarBautista

Their next song had Jessi move to the grand piano. It too was absolutely breathtaking.

They finished with their backscratch, drawing Abby Ahmad. Another mind-blowing performance, and I really loved the song too (credit for that to Abby, obviously, though I have no idea how her original version sounds).

Folks, if The Vanity Belles don’t make it, the world is very broken.

They closed the show by awarding Martin Rivas with an actual backscratcher, dated and signed by everyone who appeared last night. A very nice gesture indeed!

MartinRivasBackscratcher

Here a pic of Alex Berger, currently the only Backscratch Master, with Jay Stolar. Alex has a show in 3 hours at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, so hurry up and get over there! Smile

AlexBergerJayStolar

Derek James at The Delancey CMJ

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Derek James playing somewhere and we’re in town? That’s where we’ll be. He was headlining a CMJ Showcase at The Delancey on the main stage. We had never been to The Delancey, but now you know why we’ll never be able to say that again.

DerekJames

I’ve written about Derek many times now. The most recent one was a review of his new CD (something I rarely do). The CD is out now, so you can just go buy it (and rate your reviewing skills vs mine). I mentioned in that post that I’d be buying it once it was out. Since we still enjoy physical CDs (luddites that we are), we bought two last night after the show and got Derek to sign one as well. Thanks!

The main stage at The Delancey is quite small (just wide enough to fit the four of them, barely deep enough for each to take a step or two forward or back. The room itself is extremely long and very narrow. I parked myself at the bar directly across from Derek.

The sound guy (sitting immediately to the left of the stage) was excellent, actively ensuring that the sound was right for us and the performers as well (more on that in the next post). That made a world of difference. I’ve complained twice now that at Rockwood 1 (one of our favorite places), Derek’s vocals have been washed out by the volume of the instruments. Not so last night.

CMJ sets tend to be a bit shorter than normal. It stinks when you can’t get enough of a performer, but it’s awesome that they try to have nearly every set at dozens of venues actually start on time!

Derek was supported by his newer set of Lovely Fools (not the ones on the CD). He tours with these guys now and this is the second time I’ve seen them playing with Derek. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know how much I love the original Fools. That will never change, but I publicly admit to be 100% satisfied with the current Lovelies.

Jerry Fuentes on electric guitar and vocals. Jerry is superb on the electric guitar and is a large part of why I don’t mug Derek in an alley for not being able to produce Roy Gurel at every show.

JerryFuentes

Mike Tuccillo on electric bass and vocals. Mike is becoming a staple in our outings. We saw him supporting Jenny Owen Youngs just the night before. The bass play on a Derek James set is a critical part of the sound, and Mike is definitely up to the task.

MikeTuccillo

I mentioned to him after the set that he’s helping me forget Assaf Spector. He noted how different their styles are. True, and like I said above, I will always love the original Fools (Roy and Assie), but Jerry and Mike deliver.

During one song, the three of them (Jerry, Derek and Mike) take identical/simultaneous leads (electric, acoustic and bass, respectively). They nail it (it would be painfully obvious if any of them missed a single note).

Jamie Alegre on drums and vocals. Jamie had to work with a reduced kit (snare, kick, high hat and one additional cymbal) due to the size of the stage. As Derek noted between songs, Jamie kicked arse even with the smaller setup. Great job!

JamieAlegre

Derek noted that when he tours with these guys, people ask whether they are brothers. Look at the mop-tops and beards, and decide for yourself. Smile

JerryFuentesDerekJamesJamieAlegreMikeTuccillo

Look who we ran into at The Delancey. Matt Simons was the person who suggested we go catch Alec Gross upstairs (before the Derek James set) and Chris Ayer was already up there enjoying the show.

ChrisAyerUnknownMattSimons

Take You Out Dancing by Derek James

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I’ve written about Derek James a number of times (here’s the most recent one). For the lazy among you (I know, you’re too lazy to even raise your hands, right?), here’s the opening paragraph:

Derek James has magical powers (at least over me). I am a very happy person, nearly 100% of the time. So, lifting my spirits seems like a silly thing to say, since they’re always pretty high (metaphorically speaking). Yet, every time I see Derek James perform (last night, at Rockwood Music Hall, was the fifth time), he does indeed lift my spirits even higher (and I was coming in with a wonderful frozen margarita high, so he had some work to do!). Winking smile

Ever since Derek mentioned that he was recording a new CD, I have been waiting (not so patiently!) to capture the magic so I can trot it out whenever I want to (not just when Derek has time to play a show). That day is now here (sort-of, not quite officially). You can stream the upcoming CD in it’s entirety at http://derekjames.bandcamp.com/. You can also read the lyrics for every song there as well.

On September 15th, 2011, Derek will be performing a CD Release Show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, 7:30pm (ticketed show). We won’t be in NYC that day, so sadly, we’ll miss the party. Go in my stead and report back here in the comments if it was as awesome as I know it will be!

There are two ways to consider this album:

  1. From the perspective of someone who loves the live shows
  2. From the perspective of a newcomer to Derek James

#1 should be judged by whether the album captures the magic. Does it transport you instantly to that happy place? Unequivocally yes! (It’s not the same as the live show and I’ll have more to say about that in a minute.)

#2 should be judged by two criteria (independently): 1) Do you badly want to see a live show after listening? and 2) Do you want to put the CD on repeat, even if you never see Derek live?

Obviously, not being able to un-see a live show, I can’t really answer #2 honestly, though I’m impressed enough to believe that the answer to both 1) and 2) will be yes as well. Since you can stream it for free, let me know in the comments how it grabs you, whether you’ve seen Derek live or not.

There’s a strong visual component to a Derek James and The Lovely Fools show that (obviously) can’t be duplicated on a CD. The other difference is that in a live show, there’s a little more freedom to take leads (in particular on the guitar) and experiment. When you’re recording, you throw out all of the experimentation (save one specific take) and you shorten everything to package it up for a more mass audience taste/expectation.

I’ve listened to the album five times now. I like it more with each listen. The very first listen sounded a bit “rounded at the edges” for me, but I realize after the fact that I had the volume down just a bit too much. Now, at the right level, with good headphones, I can’t stop listening.

As much as I enjoy the lyrics, they’re mostly fun, not earth-shaking. You won’t find yourself writing them down, bringing them to your philosophy professor to debate the meaning of life. That said, listen carefully, because there are gems sprinkled here and there. He’s an example (from She Goes Far Away):

I don’t know but I’ve been told before
The less you get you love ‘em even more

Who hasn’t been there before? Winking smile (that should probably have been a sad face, to more appropriately reflect the feeling we’ve had when we were in that state!)

Do you know someone who needs their mood lifted? Send them to the link to listen to this album. Do they still need a pick-me-up? Take them to a show!

You can see the major credits on the Bandcamp page, but I bumped into Derek at the Bowery Ballroom show on Tuesday and asked him to email me any additional credits for me to reproduce here. This is a more complete list (it duplicates all of what is on the web as well):

all lyrics and music by Derek James
all songs (c) Derek James (ASCAP)
Publishing: Derek James Music (ASCAP)

additional music by Assaf Spector & Roy Gurel (tracks 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9)
additional lyrics by Assaf Spector (track 1)

Bright Days* co-written by Andrea Tonon – (Andrea is an Italian I met living in France and we had a band of French musicians we used to busk together in the streets .. this song was inspired by the gypsy musicians of Europe and European life in the quaint cobblestone streets of their charming cities)

DEREK JAMES vox, acoustic guitars, percussion, kazoo, harmonica, & keys

ASSAF SPECTOR bass, drums, percussion, b.vox, programming

ROY GUREL electric guitars, percussion, & b.vox

RYAN VAUGHN percussion

MATTHEW ISELIN Main Keys

BAILEY (my dog, also on cover) b.vox

ADAM CHRISTGAU drums (tracks 4, 6, 12)

JANEL ELIZABETH b.vox (track 10)

JAMIE ALEGRE drums (track 5)

GLENN CHOCKY b.vox (track 4)

FARA D’AGUILAR b.vox (track 9)

produced by Assaf Spector, Roy Gurel & Derek James

recorded and engineered by Assaf Spector & Roy Gurel from May to August 2010 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on North 12th and Kent – big oil/gas factory building converted to studio spaces

mixed by Assaf Spector

mastered by Adrian Morgan at Timeless Mastering, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Photography – (c) Glenn Chocky (cover, back cover, inside left)& Maxine Nienow (inside right)

Art Direction & Design – (c) Glenn Chocky & Derek James

It’s so fantastic when something you’ve looked forward to for so long hits the mark. I will be purchasing this CD the minute it’s available. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to it over-and-over. You should too!

Derek James at Rockwood Music Hall

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Derek James has magical powers (at least over me). I am a very happy person, nearly 100% of the time. So, lifting my spirits seems like a silly thing to say, since they’re always pretty high (metaphorically speaking). Yet, every time I see Derek James perform (last night, at Rockwood Music Hall, was the fifth time), he does indeed lift my spirits even higher (and I was coming in with a wonderful frozen margarita high, so he had some work to do!). Winking smile

DerekJamesGuitar

Derek’s band is called The Lovely Fools. Sometimes shows are billed as Derek James and sometimes as Derek James and The Lovely Fools. As I noted in my last post, The Lovely Fools aren’t always the same set of folks, though I associate the canonical version of The Lovely Fools as Roy Gurel on guitar and Assaf Spector on bass. Both were at the last show, but neither was there last night.

Last night was a fantastic set, full of toe-tapping, head-bobbing, foot stomping and feel-gooding (Jr.?). Winking smile So, these Lovely Fools are very lovely too (I’ll note the differences below when I tell you who they were). First, the set list:

SetList

The biggest highlight between the shows was that the volume levels on all instruments (including the drums) was perfect. In the last post I lamented that perhaps Rockwood 1 shouldn’t host these types of shows. I noted exceptions to that (so it can be done) and it was awesome to have Derek himself reverse the feeling I previously had.

The biggest disappointment was once again having Derek’s voice be way too low to hear the words. I was right up at the stage, so I probably had the worst of it, sitting under the speakers. I hope the people further back got to enjoy his vocals (and hear the words clearly).

Most guitarists don’t plan for disasters. They foolishly bring guitars with six strings. When one breaks, there are certain notes they simply can’t play. Derek James is a genius. He brought a guitar that had a whopping 12 strings on it. When one of them broke during the set, he was able to play with nearly twice as many strings as those other guitarists do, and still hit every note. Winking smile

Even if all of his strings broke, he could have seamlessly moved over to full-time Kazoo playing. Smile

DerekJamesKazoo

Last night marked the beginning of a month-long, weekly (every Thursday) residency at Rockwood. The first three at Rockwood 1, the last at Rockwood 2, a ticketed CD Release show. Check him (them) out!

The minute I walked into Rockwood, I saw Jerry Fuentes on stage. I asked him whether he just played the set before Derek. He said he was playing with Derek. Sweet, I really enjoyed Jerry’s guitar play when we caught his headlining set back in January.

JerryFuentes

Roy Gurel (the normal guitar-playing-fool) is really amazing. The one disappointing show featured a very skilled guitarist. Unfortunately, playing with Derek James requires a lot more than skill, it requires style. Seriously, there is so much fun (much of it delivered in a nuanced way), that if you’re going to share the stage with him, you better both be infected by the mood and also be capable of spreading it (like a virulent virus).

Jerry Fuentes has the skills (I already knew that), but thankfully, he totally has the style. His leads were fun and tasty. He can Fool me any time he wants.

JerryFuentesDerekJames

Mike Tuccillo on electric bass. Filling Assaf’s (Assie) shoes is no small feat, on the bass in general, and specifically as a Fool. I’ve seen Mike play twice before (at the Soul Revue Benefit and as part of Jerry’s band in the set linked to above), so I wasn’t worried about his bass play. Like Jerry above, Mike fit in really well with the sound.

MikeTuccillo

Kenny Shaw was on drums again (like he was the last time we saw Derek). He was fantastic. The beats in Derek’s songs are so integral to the irresistible desire to shake-your-thang, that the drummer’s role is critical. Every time he hits it, he’s tapping on something deep in your psyche (if he’s doing it correctly). Thanks Kenny (my psyche thanks you too!).

KennyShaw

After the show, Kenny asked me if he was too loud (I was sitting with my back directly in front of the kick drum). I was thrilled to answer No. It really was perfect.

So, with Jerry and Mike doing such a good job, are they perfect replacements for Roy and Assie? No, but I have zero complaints. It’s not so much a difference in skill levels, but rather than Roy and Assie can perform these numbers in their sleep. It’s most noticeable in the reduced harmonies (Jerry sang more than Mike did). Roy and Assie also move in unison (with and without Derek), again, almost unconsciously.

If Jerry and Mike continue to be the main Lovelies, they might get there, but even if they don’t, I promise to never be disappointed if they are the ones on stage when I show up to see Derek perform!

Derek James and the Lovely Fool with New Band Members at Rockwood Music Hall

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Last night was my fourth time seeing Derek James and the Lovely Fools. Each setup was different (last night was no exception) and only one of them was disappointing (hint: not last night). The show was at Rockwood Music Hall.

There are many bands that create a party atmosphere. In many cases, it depends on the circumstances (the audience, venue, mood of the band, etc.).  Then there are bands where the music itself is a party! Derek James and the Lovely Fools are at the head of the class in that regard.

DerekJamesSmiling

In less than 10 notes (seriously), it’s nearly impossible to avoid: smiling, tapping your foot, bobbing your head and swaying your body. I dare you to show up when they play and prove me wrong!

Derek will be releasing a new CD this fall. I am praying that at least 20% of this magic can be bottled, so that I can party at will just by turning on my iPod. I’m hopeful! I can wager a ton that even if it’s perfect, it can’t match a live show. There is so much visual fun going on that simply can’t be reproduced on a CD. So, get the CD when it’s available, but get yourself to a show as often as you can, it will never get tiresome (that’s another promise I can safely make).

I’ll run through the band and mention what was different this time, then wrap up with a few complaints (which only means it could have been better, not that it wasn’t great!).

Derek James on vocals, acoustic guitar and kazoo. What can I say, Derek is obviously Mayor of Funtown. A winning/impish smile, fast rhythm guitar, very tasty leads (usually in 100% unison with the bass, lead guitar or both!) and a southern twang on his vocals (I don’t think he talks like that) that can charm your pants off (well, if I wasn’t taken they could). Winking smile Derek didn’t play the ukulele last night. It wasn’t missing, but it was still somewhat missed.

DerekJamesGuitar

Roy Gurel on electric guitar and vocals.  Roy was in Israel for over six months. He was not at the last show, which largely accounted for the only disappointing effort. While Derek was Derek that night, the Lovely Fools were talented, but not so Lovely. Roy is an exceptional guitarist. The last time I saw him, I described him as my second favorite local guitarist behind Greg Mayo.

RoyGurelTuning

Last night Roy was wonderful, but not quite as good as he’s been in the past. I’m not complaining, but since I’m ranking people anyway (for my own memory) I’ll say that he’s now third, behind Greg and John Kaiteris of Live Society. Roy could work his way back up a notch, but I am doubtful (on his behalf) that he will be able to top Greg. Here’s hoping he takes up the challenge! Winking smile

RoyGurelLeadGuitar

Assaf Spector (Assie) on electric bass, vocals and kazoo. Assie also missed the last show, make a clean sweep of me missing the truly Lovely Fools. Last night Assie was spot on, in every respect, back to a typical Derek James show. In addition to his incredible bass playing, wonderful background vocals and all around fun attitude on stage, he added a kazoo to the mix. Derek always plays a kazoo, but having two of them played on stage at the same time added to the carnival atmosphere.

AssafSpectorDerekJamesAssafSpectorSingingHarmony

Now to the additions (re-read the title!):

Greg Mayo on keyboards (I only heard electronic/organ ones, but he was sitting at the grand piano, so some of the piano-ish sounds might have come from that). I don’t know if Greg sang, since he was blocked by Derek the entire set from where I was sitting. I admit to feeling a little guilty noting that Roy’s play slipped a drop while realizing that Greg was sitting two feet behind him. I hope I get over it. Winking smile

GregMayo

Greg took a few very tasty leads, but they were extremely short (more like quick riffs than real leads). I’m guessing/hoping that he’s new to the band, and if he plays with them more, they’ll work on arrangements (and visual cues to each other) to have him play a bigger role. This was the first time we’ve seen keyboards added to a Derek James set.

Kenny Shaw on drums. It seems that we see Kenny more often in the past few months than any other drummer. That’s fine, he’s great. But, as with Abby Payne’s set last week, if the band plays really loud (and they did), Kenny can match them, making the drums a bit too loud as well.

KennyShaw

The show was fantastic, so you can stop reading now if you don’t want some negativity in your lives.

I’m coming to the (very unfortunate) conclusion that Rockwood 1 is simply not a good place for a highly amplified set (though I admit that I’ve seen a number of shows where it wasn’t a problem, including last week’s Greg Mayo set). In addition to the electronic keyboards being amplified (obviously), there were three separate amps on stage (Roy’s electric guitar, Derek’s acoustic guitar and Assie’s bass). That’s what caused Kenny to strike the drums really hard.

It’s not entirely the sound guy’s fault, since the amps are controlled directly by the players. Someone in the audience called out that Derek needed to turn up his vocals. They may have tried, but it didn’t make a difference. Derek responded that it’s hard to tone down the volume when the band is 1/2 deaf. He added that even if Roy crawled inside his own amp, it wouldn’t be loud enough for Roy’s taste. Winking smile

That said, all of the vocals could be heard reasonably well (as instruments), but on the faster/louder numbers (the majority), the lyrics were really hard to make out (unless you know the song well). From a party point of view, no biggie, the party was just as much fun. From a “Derek might be singing something interesting” point of view, not so much…

So, no one instrument overwhelmed the others (the sound was nicely balanced), but together they were all too loud (not painfully so!).

Let’s finish by repeating the more important points: great show, great new additions to the band, awesome to have the original Lovely Fools back! Smile

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

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

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

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

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

IanAxelSinging

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

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

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

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

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

IanAxelChadVaccarinoAdamChristgauChrisAndersonChrisKuffnerPacificSun

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

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

ChadVaccarinoSinging

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

AdamChristgauDrums

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

AdamChristgau

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

ChrisAnderson

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

ChrisKuffnerSlideGuitar

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

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

DanRomerAccordion

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

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

ChockyTrackSuit

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

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

ChockyStrikingGong

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

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

IanAxelSingingSaySomething

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

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

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

ChadVaccarinoDanRomerChockyIanAxel

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

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

MikeCampbellIanAxelChadVaccarino

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

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

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

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

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

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

JamesCleare

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

HeatherRobb

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

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

JamesSmithGuitarDrumsSetup

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

NoahGoldman

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

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

HeatherRobbKeyboardsDrumsSetup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JamesCleareAsBobDylan

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

ChadVaccarinoTrumpetIShallBeReleased

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

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

Here is the set list from The Spring Standards:

SpringStandardsSetList

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

MadiDiaz

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

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

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

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

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

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

KyleRyan

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

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

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

AdamPopick

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

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

MadiDiazBassPlayer

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

MadiDiazKeyboardPlayer

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

Here is Madi’s set list:

MadiDiazSetList

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HadarOutOfTowners

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

HadarLindsie

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

AmyRivardElyseShannonTerryElyse

LindsieAlisonMelissaTongJimSamTeichmanKelly

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

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

Derek James at Rockwood Music Hall

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I have been waiting (not so patiently) for a chance to see Derek James perform again. Lois has been waiting even longer. We saw him for the first time on July 22nd at Flux Studios. Then I saw him without Lois on September 1st at Rockwood Music Hall stage 2. Both shows were extraordinary.

DerekJames

Last night night Derek played Rockwood Music Hall stage 1, so I expected a bit of a more mellow setup, like he had at Flux. I admit to being a bit nervous as to what I might hear, since Derek announced at the September show that his guitar player, Roy Gurel, was heading to Israel for a long stay and wouldn’t return for a while.

Unfortunately, Assaf Spector wasn’t with Derek either, giving Derek a completely new band. Last night was their first performance together.

I love everything about Derek’s music. He writes fun songs and delivers them with a zest that has to be experienced live. That was all true last night too. While I definitely enjoyed the set and again am looking forward to seeing Derek as soon as possible, my expectations were too high for the reconfigured band to meet (my fault, not theirs).

Derek modulates his voice by running his mic through the equivalent of a guitar pedal. Even though I had noticed interesting qualities in his voice in the previous performances, I never noticed that he was controlling it electronically (silly me). Last night, mostly in the first song, but still noticeable throughout the set, Derek seemed to set the effects a little too high. During the first song, he sounded a bit like he was on helium. To make matters worse, his vocals were mic’ed a bit too low (even without the effects) and his guitar was a bit too low as well.

On to the band. I normally go left-to-right, but I’ll go right-to-left this time, because that happens to be the order that impressed me.

Michael Riddleberger on the drums (and a bit of vocals). Mike (that’s how Derek introduced him) impressed me mightily. Derek’s beats are fun and big and are greatly enhanced by a drummer who can bring out the 1940’s big band jazz sound (full, echoing drums). I was extremely nervous when the set began, because I was literally 10 inches from the drum set. Mike was perfect in his beat, and in not blowing my head off.

MichaelRiddleberger

David on the bass and light vocals. I bothered to make a note of his full name on my Droid. When I looked at the note tonight, the auto-corrected text had his last name as “disease”. Sorry! Anyway, he was quite good on the bass. Not quite as loose or fun as Assie (Assaf) is. But, the biggest difference is that Assie shares a ton of vocal harmony with Derek which was missing. Also, there is a general showmanship (dancing around) that was missing last night.

DavidBass

Michael Day on electric guitar and vocals. I might have heard the name incorrectly, because I can’t find a link to him. Michael is clearly a talented guitarist with some fast leads. But, he’s filling shoes that are very hard to fill. Roy Gurel might be my second favorite local guitar player (behind Greg Mayo). Roy also does as much singing and dancing as Assie does (well, did!).

MichaelDay

I am not blaming Michael and David for not being able to replace Roy and Assie on their first-ever show. I am just hoping that a few more rehearsals and shows will continue their development quickly and dramatically.

Derek James can mesmerize me solo, I have no doubt. But, the current setup is called Derek James and the Lovely Fools. If that’s accurate, then the configuration with Roy and Assie should have been called Derek James and the Loveliest Fools! Smile

One final negative note (not under Derek’s control). While the 7pm set for Sarah Jarosz was whisper quiet during her songs, quite a number of people talked loudly during Derek’s numbers. Of course, those same people cheered, clapped and whooped it up like they were his biggest fans when the song was over. I know Derek’s music creates a total party atmosphere (did I mention how much fun his songs are?), but that’s no excuse to party without him while he’s performing…