Elliot Jacobson

Alex Liang Wong at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Alex Wong is someone I’ve written about so many times. Starting with this post, I’m going to do my best to never write about him again. The reason? Too many darned Alex Wong’s running around getting famous on the Internet. In order to stake out a defined spot, our Alex has chosen to revive his long-dormant middle name.

Alex Liang Wong will now be the target of my admiration (and to save myself a bunch of typing, he’ll also be known as ALW). Feel free to beat me up in the comments if in the future I slip and call him by his old name.

There have been other (in)famous Alex Wong’s for a while. So, why change the name now, specifically? Because ALW is getting close to releasing his first-ever solo album, on February 14th, 2012. Having your name collide with others is a friction point and ALW wants people to be able to find his music more easily.

Amen to that. This new album will be amazing in every sense of the word. That brings me to last night’s show.

ALW has been playing a number of the songs from the upcoming CD for a while now. Some of them are deep earworms for me and have been since the first listen. They have morphed from purely solo efforts (when only ALW knew them), to duets, to slightly fuller band versions, over the past six months.

Last night was the culmination of that progression. ALW has already recorded the CD (mixed and mastered as well), so he knows exactly what it will sound like to the world. He’s finally ready to get closer to reproducing that sound live (which is a big trick, because aside from being a great songwriter, ALW is one of the best producers around, so his CD is not going to be a humble singer/songwriter sitting alone at a mic with his guitar).

Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 was packed (from the set before as well). ALW played mostly new songs, but he threw in a big surprise as well. He played the grand piano on most numbers, and some acoustic guitar, of course singing the lead on every song.

AlexLiangWongPiano

He had a number of special guests and a core band of three fantastic musicians. He also performed one song solo on the acoustic guitar, Patiently, which is a great song. There’s a video of him doing a solo version on the site linked to his (new) name above. The CD version will have a much bigger sound with a full band.

AlexLiangWongGuitar

Since the core band played on almost every song, let me mention them first, and then cover the guests in the order that they appeared.

Ward Williams on cello and electric guitar. Ward was outstanding on both, but I was particularly impressed with his play on the guitar. ALW has created a lot of unusual sounds on the new album, and much of effort to reproduce those live fell to Ward. Very impressive!

WardWilliamsCello

Ward also sang a lot more harmony with ALW than he has previously. He really nailed it every single time. I’ve always been a fan of Ward’s, including his performance in the set before, but this might have been the best all-around performance of his that I’ve attended.

WardWilliamsGuitar

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Elliot is always great, with last night being no exception. That said, as I think I’ve mentioned before, drumming for ALW on a song that ALW wrote has to be a challenge. ALW is first and foremost a percussionist himself, so he doesn’t tend to make vanilla drum tracks.

ElliotJacobson

Of course Elliot is up to the task (there’s no way that ALW would consistently pick him to play his shows otherwise), but I’m still impressed to see it, each and every time. For a specific example, the major beat in Never Look Back is in opposition to the basic melody and in my head, feels like it would be really easy to lose focus as a drummer. Not only did Elliot nail it, he took the subtlest of cues from ALW when the song started as to tempo and volume, adjusted instantly, and then drummed to perfection for the remainder of the song.

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony is one of my favorites, but clearly he is one of ALW’s too, since he plays so many of his shows. Good choice. Tony was excellent last night. When I ran into him on the sidewalk as we left, I mentioned that the bass was the critical part in reproducing the really big sound in the bridge of Never Look back. So, Tony and Elliot were really key in that number.

TonyMaceli

Alex Berger (who headlined the set before, covered here) joined to sing The Fighter, a song they co-wrote (and it will appear on each of their upcoming albums, I’m betting it will sound quite different on each).

AlexBerger

ALW also called up Alisa James to sing harmony with them (I couldn’t find a good link to her).

AlisaJames

Before the show started, ALW tried to convince Rachel Platten to join him on a number they co-wrote, Make It Home (that link takes you to a page where you can listen for free, but please buy it, as 100% of the proceeds go to CityHarvest.org!). I saw Rachel shake her head no, but I couldn’t hear her reason.

RachelPlatten

When Alex got up to that number, he joked (or perhaps he was serious!) that Rachel couldn’t play it because she was contractually prohibited by her record label from appearing at the show. I think he was kidding. I’m guessing that they didn’t rehearse it and Rachel wasn’t prepared to wing it. But, even if it was true, ALW performed it beautifully by himself, so we got to enjoy it anyway.

ambeR Rubarth was a very special guest. She and ALW had a group called The Paper Raincoat which is actually solely responsible for our immersion in the indie music scene in NYC (we saw them at the Canal Room on April 16th, 2009!). ambeR took to the piano and ALW to the acoustic guitar and they performed one of their Paper Raincoat songs, The Same Old Things. Yay! Smile

ambeRRubarth

David Fallo joined on that number and sat in on another, playing the viola as well as he always does.

DavidFallo

To close the show, ALW picked one of my favorite songs (I’m obsessed actually, I could listen to it 24×7): Are You Listening. Typically, ALW has at most one other person singing the chorus (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) with him on stage. That never matters, as the entire audience sings it with him (no one sings it louder than I do).

Last night he shook it up a bit and had a ton of the best singers around belting out the chorus with him on stage. The wall of sound coming from the stage was heavenly and made it a bit more difficult to hear the audience singing along, but I’m not complaining!

Left-to-right, singing with Alex:

Ari Hest, Martin Rivas, Ian Holljes, Elizabeth Hopkins and Eric Holljes. The last three names listed are 3/4’s of the singers in the amazing band Delta Rae. ALW is producing their new CD as I type (literally) and it will be awesome, I have no doubt!

AriHestMartinRivas

IanHolljesElizabethHopkinsEricHolljes

TonyMaceliIanHolljesElizabethHopkinsEricHolljes

Here’s the (planned) set list. As you already know (e.g., Rachel Platten did not play), this was not followed like a blueprint, but rather like a guide. Don’t Be Afraid also didn’t make the actual cut:

SetList

Like I noted in the previous post, we ran into a lot of people between the two sets. Here are some photos that Lois snapped as we were heading out the door:

EricHolljesIanHolljesHadarGrantEmerson

MikeMcKeeHadarCarleyTanchonHadar

Alex Wong at Rockwood Music Hall CMJ

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Alex Wong has a full-band show this coming Monday night (10/24/2011) at 9pm at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. There are three other shows that we want to see that night and we haven’t figured out how to be at two places at once, just yet.

Yesterday, Alex had an afternoon showcase at Rockwood, at MPress Records MPressFest (part of the week-long CMJ Festival). Alex isn’t signed to MPress, but they are fans of his (as we are) and wanted to highlight him among their own lineup of artists.

AlexWongPiano

Alex had a full band at this show so we got a preview of what the rest of you can see on Monday. It’s a rare treat (the last time we saw him with a full band was in July), but I suspect we’ll see more of this setup as we head toward next year’s release of Alex’s first solo CD.

Alex is an incredible producer (who is about to enter a grueling stretch of producing albums for: Martin Rivas, Anne Heaton, Delta Rae, Alex Berger, and likely others I am unaware of or can’t recall at the moment). There’s little doubt that he’s transitioning his live shows to bring out more of the flavor that we’ll hear on his own solo CD, rather than the more stripped-down versions we’ve been hearing before he hit the studio.

I say amen to that.

Alex was supported by three people, left-to-right on stage:

Ximena Sarinana on vocals. Ximena sang on a few numbers, including the opener, Always Something Better. A superstar in her own right, hearing her voice blend with Alex’s (or anyone’s, to be honest), is always satisfying.

XimenaSarinana

Ward Williams on cello and electric guitar. Ward always delivers. He switched back-and-forth between the cello and guitar. On one song, he started off looping an ethereal sound on the cello, then picked up the guitar for the majority of the song, turning the cello loop off/on as appropriate. Very cool.

WardWilliamsGuitarWardWilliamsCello

Elliot Jacobson on drums. You couldn’t have seen two more different drum performances than yesterday’s Alex Wong set and Wednesday’s Jenny Owen Youngs set. Yet, both were fantastic, and both were provided by Elliot, showing off why he’s a very sought after drummer. Given that Alex is a top drummer/percussionist in his own right, selecting Elliot is a very high compliment (well deserved).

ElliotJacobson

Alex spent most of the set at the grand piano. He stepped out to play acoustic guitar on two numbers. One was a nearly solo performance of Patiently (off the upcoming album). The other is one of The Paper Raincoat’s best songs, Brooklyn Blurs.

AlexWongGuitar

Standing next to Elliot was another great drummer, Seth Faulk. I’ve noted at least twice that Seth has an excellent voice. Those comments weren’t made at a Seth Faulk show. In both cases, Seth was in the audience, singing along with the performer on stage. In one of those cases, Seth was standing right behind me, so I got a personal serenade (that was at an Alex Wong show too!).

Alex is obviously aware that Seth knows his material and can sing it beautifully. He egged Seth to join him on stage for Brooklyn Blurs. It took roughly five attempts, but finally Seth came center stage and harmonized with Alex. Yay!

AlexWongSethFaulkWardWilliams

The set was so good that I feel even worse that we’ll be missing Alex on Monday. On the other hand, I feel great that we caught this one and got a preview of Monday’s set. The other advantage of this one over Monday’s is that Ximena will no longer be in town for that show, so we were rewarded for playing hooky from work on a Friday afternoon. Smile

Jenny Owen Youngs at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 CMJ

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In April 2009 we accidentally were pulled into the orbit of the NYC indie music scene (courtesy of The Paper Raincoat, comprised of Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth). Even though some of these artists are signed to labels, most of them still operate (and struggle) like indie musicians, with a one-inch leg up.

By December 2009, we had enlarged the circle of local musicians we follow a drop (it’s really big now). One of those was drummer Adam Christgau who posted a YouTube video of Jenny Owen Youngs. I really liked it and put Jenny on my list of shows to catch. Here’s the video:

Jenny Owen Youngs–Last Person

Amazingly, in the next two years, I never got to see Jenny. Once or twice I could have twisted myself into a pretzel, but I didn’t.

CMJ offers so many choices, but Jenny’s showcase at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 lined up so that I could finally scratch this one off the list.

JennyOwenYoungsElliotJacobson

Jenny delivered a non-stop energetic rock set. It was nearly impossible not to be moving (not swaying, rather tapping, stomping, bobbing, jumping, dancing, etc.) to all but perhaps one slightly mellower number.

Jenny has an excellent voice. She played solid rhythm on the electric guitar. She’s funny (though with CMJ, banter is often kept to a minimum).

I can’t comment on the lyrics, because everything was so loud (well-balanced, not painful) that even though Jenny’s voice came through strongly, it was more of an instrument (for me at least) than a lyrical delivery system.

For such a big sound (independent of the volume), it was a stripped-down band. Jenny was supported by two people:

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Elliot is always great, no exceptions, but last night’s performance was a bit more herculean for two reasons. The first is that every song was so up-tempo, and there were only three instruments (including the drums). Couple that with the fact that Jenny didn’t play any lead on the guitar. For my taste, Elliot was the musical focal point of the set.

ElliotJacobson

He’s always a machine, but this set list called from him to be so non-stop, for roughly 45 minutes. It was almost like he took a 30-minute solo, supported by rhythm guitar and electric bass.

The second reason is a little frightening and only became clear a few hours after the show was over. When I got home (after seeing four additional CMJ sets!), I saw this tweet from Elliot:

elliotjacobson Elliot Jacobson

That was so fun. Thanks to all of you who came to the show! Sorry I wasn’t around to talk after. Food poisoning isn’t fun. ?

What? That performance occurred while Elliot was experiencing food poisoning? I can’t even imagine. Here’s hoping he’s better now.

Even the lighting guy felt the need to highlight Elliot. Winking smile

ElliotJacobsonDrums

Mike Tuccillo on electric bass and vocals. Mike was excellent on the bass and sang a bit of harmony with Jenny as well (very nicely). He was also the subject of one of Jenny’s introductions (she asked his permission first). Winking smile

MikeTuccilloMikeTuccilloBass

On two songs Jenny played on a bass drum (and hit Elliot’s cymbal a couple of times). Seeing as the drums were a focal point for me, this enhanced that feeling even more, with two of them drumming at the same time. In keeping with me sharing people’s tweets, here’s what Elliot had to say about that:

elliotjacobson Elliot Jacobson

Gave @jennyowenyoungs wimpy sticks to play her floor tom during our drum duet. She STILL played loud as hell. #profressionalbadass

JennyOwenYoungsDrummingWithElliotJacobson

True!

I enjoyed the set, but I’d have to hear Jenny’s music recorded to know whether it’s something I’d clamor to hear over-and-over or to attend on a regular basis.

Here is the set list:

SetList

Jeff Litman at Rockwood Music Hall

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

JeffLitman

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

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

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

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

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

JeffLitmanMaddyWyatSingingMaddyWyattFlute

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

SetList

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

ShannaZell

My evil plan worked! Winking smile

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

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

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

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

JeffLitmanMaddyWyatNewSong

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

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

BryanDynnElectricGuitar

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

MattBasile

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

ElliotJacobson

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

JasonWexler

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

Bess Rogers CD Release at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Last night was Bess Rogers CD Release Party for Out of the Ocean. It was a three-hour, three-act show. I already covered the two opening acts, Allie Moss followed by Ian Axel.

Bess has created a beautiful CD. As good as the songs are, the production by Chris Kuffner (Bess’ husband) is incredible. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon and physical CD from Bess’ site as well. I recommend you check it out on Bandcamp (linked above) so you can verify for yourself whether you like it, then buy it.

BessRogers

In keeping with the fact that Out of the Ocean is a concept album, Bess decided to play the CD start-to-finish at the show. Given the production, that meant having a bunch of people on stage to recreate the sound.

Bess played the ukulele, acoustic guitar and glockenspiel. Of course, more than that, she sang amazingly well. The energy on stage was feverish for much of the set and that translated to the audience as well. That lent more of a rock feel to the set, whereas the album feels like a more polished collection of pop numbers.

BessRogersUkuleleBessRogersSinging

A lot of people helped Bess make this a very special night (playing to a sold-out crowd at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2), so let’s get to them, left-to-right on the stage:

Misty Boyce on electronic keyboards, melodica, glockenspiel and background vocals. This was our first time seeing Misty, who is a headliner in her own right. Misty did a good job all around, though her vocals were very hard to hear except on the one song where none of the others sang (other than Bess).

MistyBoyce

When she played the melodica, the hose coming out of her mouth looked like she had a breathing/feeding tube. Winking smile

Allie Moss sang harmony on most of the numbers (as wonderfully as you can imagine). I noted above that Bess played glockenspiel. That was on one number, and Allie held it for her, causing Bess to declare that Allie was an excellent glockenspiel stand. Smile

BessRogersAllieMossChrisKuffner

Ian Axel on electronic keyboards. Ian played on at least half of the numbers. You know he was excellent, right?

IanAxel

Elliot Jacobson on drums. So clean, so precise, so fast. At one point, Chris Kuffner couldn’t contain himself and pointed at Elliot and called out his name. The crowd took the opportunity to show their appreciation.

ElliotJacobson

A little while ago I learned something that makes me wonder how Elliot kept his concentration throughout the set. He tweeted the following:

elliotjacobson Elliot Jacobson

I have a fiancé !!!!!!!!!!!!!! <3

Congratulations Elliot!

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony was wonderful throughout the set (as he always is).

BessRogersTonyMaceli

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar and vocals. In addition to producing the CD, Chris played a bunch of the instruments on it. Marvelous job live and on the CD as well. On the finale, Chris switched to an acoustic guitar.

ChrisKuffner

For those of you that don’t know, in addition to being headliners in their own right, both Bess and Allie are part of Ingrid Michaelson’s band, singing three-part harmony with Ingrid, with each playing guitar as well.

Ingrid sang on Bess’ CD and joined for a few numbers to sing background vocals alongside Allie.

AllieMossIngridMichaelson

When Bess finished playing all of the songs (winding up with Brick by Brick) she talked to the crowd a bit. The topic was her very successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of this CD. One of the prizes/rewards was having a show dedicated in your honor, with your name worked into one of the songs in the set.

Bess called out to see if the person was there (and indeed he was). She dedicated the show to him. He flew in from Minneapolis for the show, so he beat our own Lindsie by quite a few miles. While Bess honored him, she forgot to work his name into a song. Oops. I suspect he’s not going to ask for a refund. Winking smile

To thank the rest of the many Kickstarter backers in the audience, Bess ended with a very special number.

Martin Rivas came on stage and along with Ingrid Michaelson, Allie Moss and Chris Kuffner, Bess sang In My Life (by The Beatles), accompanying herself on the ukulele, performing the fantastic solos on it, flawlessly! The five part harmony on such a gorgeous song was a stunning way to end a great evening of music.

MartinRivasMartinRivasChrisKuffnerBessRogersAllieMossIngridMichaelson

Every ticket entitled the attendee to a copy of the CD and a cookie. Since we have a copy through Kickstarter, we intend to gift our two new copies to our godchildren (I guess I blew the surprise, since they’re likely to read this before we get it to them). Smile

CD-FrontCD-Back

You don’t really need a set list, since the CD was played in order, but here you go anyway (you’re welcome):

SetList

Rosi Golan Lead Balloon CD Release Show at Bowery Ballroom

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

RosiGolan

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

It was!

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

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

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

SetList

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

JakePhillips

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

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

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

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

AllieMossTonyMaceliAllieMoss

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

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

RosiGolanBessRogersAlllieMossSinging

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

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

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

DanielMintseris

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

ElliotJacobson

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

TonyMaceliTonyMaceliUpright

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

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

CaseyHicks

Here’s the Kevin, mentioned above:

KevinHadarChris

Backscratch XIV at Rockwood Music Hall

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

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

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

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

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

JeffLitman

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

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

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

JesseTerry

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

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

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

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

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

LiveSocietyJesseTerry

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

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

ValerieMizeSinging

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

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

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

AntarGoodwinTomoKonno

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

ValerieMizePiano

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

PatrickFirthGuitar

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

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

PatrickFirthPiano

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

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

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

JohnSchmitt

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

GregMayo

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

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

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

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

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

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

LaraEwen

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

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

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

BenjaminWagner

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

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

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

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

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

NickHoward

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

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

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

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

BrianCollazoGuitarAnthonyCandulloGuitar

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

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

GregMayoLiveSociety

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

JasonVargas

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

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

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

KevinCollazo

What a way to end a spectacular evening.

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

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

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

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

Jeff Litman at Rockwood Music Hall

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

JeffLitmanBirthdayFace

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

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

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

JeffLitmanGuitarJeffLitmanPiano

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

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

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

SetList

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

JeffLitmanSinging

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

A quick tour of the band followed by the guest:

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

BryanDunn

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

MattBasileJeffLitmanMattBasile

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

ElliotJacobson

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

JasonWexler

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

JeffLitmanRefusingToSingHappyBirthdayToHimself

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

Jeff Litman at Arlene’s Grocery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JeffLitmanGuitar

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

JeffLitmanSetList

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

MattBasileJeffLitmanJacketOnFloor

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

JeffLitmanSingingMaine

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

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

JeffLitmanBand

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

BryanDunn

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

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

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

ElliotJacobson

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

MattBasile

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

ElliotJacobsonBryanDunnHadarBryanDunnMattBasile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We waited nearly a year for the pleasure of seeing Alex Berger perform live again. We had to console ourselves by listening to his wonderful CD, Snow Globe. It’s great, but it’s not quite the same as seeing Alex live. Last night was his first time performing at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. We weren’t scheduled to be in NYC this week, but we couldn’t resist changing our plans in order to catch the show.

Wow, we are both so grateful that we did that. This will be a long post, which I know means most of you will bail now. So, the bottom line first, it was an absolutely spectacular show (as in awesome, but also a spectacle, in the best sense!).

On to the details! Smile Most of the photos were taken during setup, since the stage was so crowded there were very few clear shots from as close as we were to the stage.

Alex is just here visiting (briefly) from his native UK. That he was able to get booked into Rockwood 2 is good enough. That it was mobbed is a testament to how many fans and friends Alex has. If you know someone who is nicer than Alex Berger, please tell me now, because I very much want to meet that person and become their friend!

AlexBerger

Let’s start with Alex’s talents (as a singer/songwriter, I don’t have enough time to cover his talents as a person!). Alex has a fantastic voice. I am a very happy person (nearly 100% of the time), but if I’m ever tense, I’m sure that listening to Alex sing would relax me instantly.

Alex is fantastic on the keyboards (last night he played the grand piano). He can tickle my ivories any time he wishes. Winking smile

AlexBergerPiano2

Alex plays the guitar beautifully (last night he played Adam Levy’s electric guitar). I believe we were at the show where Alex first played a guitar publicly (The Living Room, on 1/11/2010). Perhaps he was practicing for years, but if he has truly only been playing the guitar for roughly a year, he’s picked it up extremely quickly. He closed the show solo with a finger-picking masterpiece (more on that later).

Alex writes gorgeous (lush) songs. Most are more of a throwback to jazz, ragtime, Dixieland, blues styles, but he also has some pop tunes (just to confuse you). Winking smile One of the most pleasant concert surprises I had was seeing Harry Connick Jr. play at Radio City Music Hall (I simply didn’t know his music well). If you like him (and how smooth he is), you’ll like (love!) Alex Berger, I’m sure.

AlexBergerPiano1

So, if you trust me (and why shouldn’t you, I haven’t steered you wrong yet!), then we can move on to the numerous musicians who joined Alex on stage last night. I’ve never seen that many people on stage at the same time at Rockwood. Most songs had eight people playing at the same time (a veritable orchestra!). There was a ninth person as well (we’ll get to him), but not all the others were on stage when he was. So, the record (for me) is eight on stage at once.

Left-to-right and front-to-back, here’s who sat (or stood) in with Alex:

Melissa Tong on violin. I can never say enough, or get enough of Melissa. We just saw Melissa play with Artemis Chamber Ensemble the day before, and I covered that in this post. It was a treat to see her change styles so radically a day apart.

MelissaTong

Christiana Liberis on violin. Christiana was wonderful! She and Melissa did not play in unison, they each had their own leads. I admit to thinking that Lindsay Lohan was getting on stage to play the violin, but it was only the looks that deceived me. Christiana was well behaved. Winking smile

ChristianaLiberis

MelissaTongChristianaLiberis

Marika Hughes on cello. We’ve seen Marika a number of times and she never disappoints.

MarikaHughes

Ward Williams on cello. We’ve seen Ward many times as well and he too is a wonderful cellist. As with Melissa and Christiana, Marika and Ward often played different parts.

WardWilliams

MarikaHughesWardWilliams

Tony Maceli on upright and electric bass. Tony was wonderful (as he always is). On the opening number, it was pretty much just Alex and Tony playing, with Tony taking a long tasty solo on the upright bass.

TonyMaceli

Katie Scheele on oboe. Katie is part of Threeds a wonderful oboe trio in NYC. We’ve seen Threeds and Katie separately a number of times and always enjoy her performance. She had a few standout solos last night and was always interesting even when in the background.

KatieScheele

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Tucked away in the corner, behind all these wonderful musicians was one of my (newly discovered) favorite drummers. I wrote about Elliot in a post about Bess Rogers. Let me add to my praise of Elliot. Before seeing him, at least two people told me Elliot was a “real hitter”. That means he strikes the drums really hard. Both people think Elliot is a great drummer, so it was a compliment, but it could also be taken to mean that Elliot is one-dimensional. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Last night, Elliot drummed nothing like he did for Bess and Lelia. He used brushes, had soft touches on the rims only and in general kept a quiet (appropriately) but steady beat to the more jazzy numbers that Alex played. To repeat, my respect for Elliot Jacobson grew last night. Sorry, no good photo of Elliot, this will have to do:

ElliotJacobson

Including Alex, that makes eight people.

Alex Wong joined Alex Berger on stage for one number. They played a song they co-wrote this weekend. According to Berger, they finished it the morning of the show, when they were rehearsing it to play for us. That kind of stuff just amazes me. Yes, they both had the words written down. Still, they nailed it. Lois cried during the song, titled The Fighter.

AlexWong

Alex Wong played the piano and Berger sang with him (they alternated verses and sang harmony throughout). Wong also scored all of the strings for the entire show. If you’ve never read this space before, then you don’t know how in awe I am of Alex Wong. Now you know! Smile

AlexWongPianoAlexWongCheatSheet

Alex (back to Berger now) had a number of songs left on his set list, but the mean management at Rockwood told him he could only do one more. Winking smile

Set List

He chose to play a cover. The song is called Washing Day, co-written by ambeR Rubarth and Adam Levy. I love the song. It has a wonderful feel to it (really slow). But, the thing that makes it a great song are the lyrics. Fantastic imagery to capture universal emotions. ambeR and Adam won 1st place in the 2006 International Songwriting Competition for this song! It was the first song they ever wrote together.

Alex said that he was playing it because it’s one of the songs that inspired him to pursue singer/songwriter as a career! ambeR was supposed to sing a song that she co-wrote with Alex earlier in the set, but she didn’t make it to Rockwood in time. At least she was there to hear Alex heap some mighty praise on her for being his inspiration!

Alex just killed Washing Day. Of course, his voice is perfect for the song. But, he also shone on the guitar, which is a non-stop finger-picking extravaganza. I was incredibly impressed all around, independent of the fact that I love the song.

AlexBergerGuitar

Right before playing it, Alex gave us a shout out, mentioning that we changed our plans to attend the show. Thanks Alex, it was more than just worth it, it was an evening we’ll never forget. We miss you already. Move to our (frigid) city soon!!! Smile