Evan Watson

Greg Mayo Band Levon Helm Tribute at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Greg Mayo Band headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. The show was on opposite two others that I would gladly have attended, but a week ago I decided that one can’t have enough Greg Mayo in their lives, so with apologies to the others, I was going to see Greg.

GregMayo

Then on Thursday (April 19th, 20120), Levon Helm passed away. Greg announced that Saturday’s show would now feature a tribute to Levon Helm and The Band. Had I chosen one of the other shows, I would have changed my plans to attend this for that reason alone.

LevonHelm

Greg split the show into two parts. The first was five songs written by him and performed by the full Greg Mayo Band (eight people, including a brass section). The second was the Levon Helm / The Band tribute, consisting of six songs with special guests joining on a few.

I was really glad that Greg chose to play some of his own material as well because one of our friends had never seen a Greg Mayo Band (GMB) show and he totally got how awesome they are (and Greg’s songs are!) before the first verse was over. I bet I’ll be seeing him at many future GMB shows. Smile

After playing It’s a Pity (typically the last song of a GMB set), the horn section left the stage and Greg gave a moving speech about Levon and what he meant to Greg, all of his musician friends and many others (including me!).

One of the first things he mentioned was that a few people had told him that everyone was doing tributes to Levon and perhaps he should consider not doing one. Greg had the perfect answer: “You can never have too many tributes to The Band, everyone should do one!”. Amen!

I’ll cover all of the band members below, but the spirit of the tribute deserves mention before the individuals who performed it perfectly.

In the GMB Greg plays the keyboards (last night he played the grand piano exclusively, amazingly, though he typically plays a bunch of electronic keyboards during these shows as well). Greg also plays a ton of guitar in many other bands. A few of those bands (including The Big Apple Singers and it’s various spin-offs and The Narwhals) specialize in songs by The Band. So I have personally witnessed Greg and his cohorts choosing to honor those songs over and over, ensuring that our youngins get exposed to these timeless classics.

GregMayoPiano

There’s another reason that the timing of Levon’s passing was so emotional for Greg. Over the New Year’s weekend, as a surprise gift for his recent birthday, a very special person in Greg’s life took him to one of Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles. I’m sure it’s a night that Greg will remember for the rest of his life. The fact that it ended up being one of Levon’s last Rambles makes it all the more poignant.

Greg began the tribute portion by inviting up one guest.

Patrick Firth on electronic keyboards and vocals. Patrick joined for most of the The Band portion, including stepping away from the keyboards to sing lead on a verse at center stage. He was great on the keys, always an integral part of The Band songs.

PatrickFirthKeyboardsPatrickFirthSingingZachJonesMattSimonsPatrickFirthSingingZachJones

PatrickFirthRebeccaHavilandChrisAndersonPaulMaddison

Then Greg invited up a couple of guests to sing on a few of the songs.

Evan Watson kicked it off with the lead vocals on the first verse of Up on Cripple Creek. Evan fronts a number of bands, including The Big Apple Singers. He’s as well suited for singing any song by The Band as anyone I know. Evan returned later and took over the electric guitar for one song in addition to singing on others.

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Zach Jones sang a verse on Up on Cripple Creek as well and joining everyone else for a few other songs.

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Circling back to the band, but first, a few more words about Greg. He’s never disappointed me at any show, whether he’s the star or a sideman. Last night his voice was as good as I’ve ever heard it (I’m tempted to say he was inspired, but that would detract from the fact that his worst is better than most others’ best). His piano play was as good as it always is.

GregMayoPianoSinging

His mic stand failed on one song (I didn’t see how). Armando cut through the crowd with a replacement. While he was swapping one for the other, Greg took the mic and stood up to sing without playing the piano. Of course he was incredible. When the swap was done Greg didn’t replace the mic in the stand until the song was over. Instead, he sat down at the bench and alternated playing the piano with one hand, then the other, switching the mic into the non-playing hand. Great job of making awesome Lemonade from the lemons. Smile

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

Rebecca Haviland on vocals and tambourine. Rebecca was on stage for every number in the set. She sang a lot with Greg during his numbers, including taking the lead on part of It’s a Pity. Then she joined on every The Band song, including singing a verse on the lead of at least one song. Superb!

RebeccaHavilandSingingGregMayoRebeccaHavilandSinging

John Liotta on baritone saxophone. John played on every GMB number, then returned for half of The Band ones. He took one long lead on a GMB song and wailed a bit with the rest of the brass section on The Band tunes as well. Excellent!

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Josh Reed on trumpet. He was on stage for the same songs as John Liotta (as was the next person, completing the brass section). Like John, Josh took a long lead on one GMB number. Excellent!

JoshReedJoshReedTrumpet

Matt Simons completed the brass section on tenor saxophone. Matt is awesome on the sax, but we don’t get to see him play it often enough, because his own original music (which I love!) is delivered on the keyboards. So, having him play at last night’s show was a very special treat for me.

MattSimonsMattSimonsSax

The brass section alone, then bracketed by Rebecca and Paul:

BrassSectionRebeccaHavilandBrassSectionPaulMaddison

Kenny Shaw on drums. I had to go three days between seeing Kenny playing the drums. Thankfully, the long drought ended with such a great set.

KennyShaw

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Chris is always great on the bass. He sang a bunch of background vocals on the GMB portion. In addition to singing a verse on the lead in a couple of The Band songs, Chris came to center stage to sing lead on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Fantastic!

ChrisAndersonRebeccaHavilandChrisAndersonChrisAndersonSingingJoshReed

Paul Maddison on electric guitar and vocals. Paul sang a bunch on the GMB numbers. He wailed on the electric guitar more during The Band portion, but was extremely solid during the GMB set. He relinquished his guitar and spot on stage for the number that Evan played guitar.

PaulMaddisonPaulMaddison2MattSimonsPaulMaddisonSinging

Most of the audience sang along to The Band numbers, with quite a number of people singing along to the GMB ones as well. It was a set most worthy of losing one’s voice. Thanks Greg and everyone on stage (and in the audience) for such an incredible, memorable performance!

Here’s the set list:

GregMayoBandLevonHelmTributeSetList

A few extra shots, including one of Greg’s little mascot:

GregMayoMascotGregMayoRebeccaHaviland

Goodnight Levon and thanks for everything!

LevonHelmDrumming1LevonHelmDrumming2

Rebecca Haviland at Rockwood Music Hall

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Rebecca Haviland headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. We try to catch every Rebecca show. March has been a good month, with this being the third time we’ve caught one of her full sets. We also got to see her sing with the Greg Mayo Band.

RebeccaHaviland

Even though we’ve seen three sets, all three venues are very different from each other and the band setup was different each time. The set list even got shaken up a bit last night. One example: Rebecca didn’t play If You (unbeknownst to her, I’ve already forgiven her). Winking smile

RebeccaHavilandSinging

At Rockwood 2, she had a full band on every number, including electronic keyboards. At Watercolor Café they played just a duo (Rebecca and Chris Anderson). Last night, the majority was a trio (add in a drummer) and then two special guest on the grand piano.

ChrisAnderson

When the volume is right at Rockwood 1, it can be one of the best rooms to hear people, and last night was fantastic. I loved every second of the set. Both Rebecca and Chris were in a zone, vocally, musically, but most of all, they were in a flow, that you could feel coming off the stage.

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Kenny Shaw rounded out the trio. I just recently commented that Kenny was hiding from us. I guess my come out, come out, wherever you are chant, worked! It was great to have Kenny in the driver’s seat for setting the rhythms. Great job, as always!

KennyShawKennyShawDrums

Greg Mayo was the first special guest. He played four consecutive songs on the grand piano. Rebecca gave him two long piano leads which Greg destroyed. On one of the songs, Greg was featured on harmony vocals with Rebecca and the two of them were great together. On the rest, Greg joined Chris for harmony background vocals. Always a treat to catch Greg (always!).

GregMayoSingingRebeccaHavilandGregMayoChrisAnderson

Evan Watson was in the audience, I believe just there to enjoy Rebecca’s set. Evan was headlining next door at Rockwood 2, at 12:30am, and Rebecca and Chris were going to be part of his band (Greg Mayo too). Rebecca asked Evan if he would come up to sing with her.

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The only free mic was at the grand piano so Evan sat there. In addition to singing amazingly with her and alone (he took a full verse on the lead), Evan noodled on the piano as well. If I heard him correctly, it was the first time he played the piano at a public show.

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The song was Dig My Grave. Excellent.

RebeccaHavilandEvanWatsonSinging

Evan deserves a different kind of shout-out. Meatloaf just released a new CD this month. The second song is called Giving Tree. It was written by Evan! When Meatloaf performed on the Tonight Show the night the CD was released, that’s the song he chose to sing. Absolutely fantastic. Congratulations to Evan (and to Meatloaf for recognizing and promoting talent!).

A terrific set. Already scanning Rockwood’s site for another opportunity to see Rebecca Haviland and Chris Anderson!

Caleb Hawley at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Caleb Hawley headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. Ever since we saw Caleb play a house concert in VA, I’ve wanted to see him as often as I can. That hasn’t worked out as well as I had hoped, so when he returned to NYC for last night’s show, I wasn’t going to miss him again.

CalebHawley

When I first see someone, I tend to write a longer, more detailed (in the excruciating, please stop sense) post. That’s what I did for the house concert, but it was back in the days when I wrote a single post about the opener and the headliner together, something I rarely do now. Caleb was detailed lower down in the post, since we originally showed up primarily for the opener, Rachel Platten. If you want to know why I fell in love with Caleb Hawley, read that post.

We’ve seen Caleb a couple of times since then, never doing a full set of his own material. That’s a shame, because in addition to being an excellent performer, he’s an excellent songwriter.

One of the most impressive things about Caleb is how comfortable/natural he appears in front of any crowd. He might be quivering underneath, but there’s no hint of that. I’ve seen him take his shirt off (at another show) and unashamedly shake his less-than-six-pack-abs belly for our amusement. The more typical thing is his disarming smile and style, which just makes you want to keep your eyes on him.

That’s good, because while you’re keeping your eyes on him, you’re hearing an incredible voice and watching an absolutely exceptional guitar player.

CalebHawleyGuitar

Last night was a joyously fun set, complete with very talented people supporting Caleb. It also featured Caleb playing electronic keyboards on the first few numbers, something he claimed he was nervous about (see above for why I don’t believe Caleb ever gets nervous). Winking smile

Let me praise the band, then circle back to some additional comments about Caleb. Left-to-right on stage:

Patrick Firth on electronic keyboards and heavy background vocals. Patrick is a perennial favorite of ours on the keyboards. We were seated a couple of feet from him, so we got to watch him work his magic directly. He also sang harmony on practically every number (perhaps every one), wonderfully.

PatrickFirthPatrickFirthKeyboards

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Evan Watson performed double duty. For half the set, he manned the drums (that was a first for me, seeing him play the drums). He was good enough to support Caleb, but he’d have to work hard to match most of the other local drummers. For the other half of the set, he was well into his comfort zone, lead electric guitar. Totally sweet! Occasionally, he leaned over to share (or take over) the mic in front of the bass player, to sing some background vocals. He also sang a bit when he was at the drums.

EvanWatsonDrumsEvanWatsonGuitar

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Brian Killeen on electric bass and background vocals. Brian is always wonderful, but Caleb gave him a couple of long-ish leads, which Brian nailed, to the delight of the crowd. He also sang quite of bit of background vocals with Caleb and Patrick. Another winning performance.

BrianKilleenBrianKilleenBassSoloCalebHawleyBrianKilleenSinging

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Considering the name of the opening song, it was entirely appropriate that the entire band donned sunglasses to try and remain incognito while entertaining us:

CalebHawleyBrianKilleenEvanWatson

Back to Caleb. I already said how much I enjoyed the set, but he still hasn’t recaptured the feeling (for me) that I had the first time I saw him. For most artists that I see, if they do both full band and solo shows, I typically prefer the full band ones. That’s even true when they are amazing solo performers.

Caleb is an exception to that rule, so far (but not the only exception). His full band show was fun and engaging throughout, but his personal artistry and wizardry is lost (or rather, watered down) in the fullness. He’s so good on the guitar, which is so much more obvious when no other instrument is playing (or when he has only a light-touch drummer supporting him, e.g., Craig Meyer). He has a great voice, which is also more obvious when there aren’t other instruments wailing. He is a great songwriter and it’s easier to concentrate on the lyrics when it’s just him.

I can imagine that with a different set list and a different arrangement, I could feel the same way about a full band show (certainly, there’s no issue with who he picks to support him!). Basically, I guess it boils down to Caleb being too generous with wanting everyone to be (nearly) equal in a full band show. In my opinion, his sets need to be about Caleb, first and foremost, with everyone else being the super professional musicians that they always are, and just support him.

I’ll be seeing Caleb again this coming Monday, 7-9pm, next door (Rockwood 1), when he is the MC for The CEO Artist showcase (put on by Christina Morelli). I imagine he’s quite the MC, given what I told you above about his stage presence.

Caleb is a celebrity in NYC (independent of his run on American Idol last year), so we always get to see many friends at any show that he is part of. We could have spent the entire evening chatting and catching up. Instead, after a few quick hugs and hellos, Lois just took photos of our friends. Winking smile

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Bri Arden will be one of the performers at Monday’s showcase with Christina Morelli (and Chrissi Poland, hidden from view, who will also be performing on Monday):

BriArdenChrstinaMorelliChrissiPolandSamTeichmanBriArdenHadar

The Big Apple Singers at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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The Big Apple Singers typically book really late shows at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. Actually, they’re really early, as in midnight. That was the case last night. We planned to attend nonetheless, because it’s simply been way too long since we’ve seen Greg Mayo (one of the four members of the band) perform.

It ended up being the culmination of a truly epic night of music for us. This was the fifth consecutive set (split between Rockwood’s two stages), beginning at 8pm with Barnaby Bright.

This was the only set that we stood for, and even though I prefer sitting, I was actually glad to stand. The Big Apple Singers bring such energy that it’s nearly impossible not to move in some way, which is easier when you’re standing. It also made it easier to stay awake. Winking smile

The Big Apple Singers mix originals (there were three or four last night) with big-time covers (mostly from The Band). They are all incredible musicians and it’s impossible not to get sucked in to the spirit (I dare you, come on down, resistance is futile!).

The core band consists of:

Evan Watson on electric guitar and vocals. Evan is an excellent guitar player. If I understand correctly, he formed The Big Apple Singers. Thanks Evan! He’s quite the showman when he’s singing lead, or playing lead guitar. On the other hand, he’s one of the most generous people when it’s someone else’s turn to shine (as I’ve noted a number of times before). He kneels to ensure the crowd can see the drummer during a solo, etc. Evan also played the mandolin on one number.

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Greg Mayo on keyboards (grand piano and electronic) and vocals. It was no small irony to me that I sat through five sets of music, each of which had an excellent guitar player, and yet I didn’t get to hear my favorite of all of them, Greg Mayo. On the other hand, he was so awesome on the keyboards, that it didn’t matter in the least!

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Greg also used a small black tube to control the sound of the electronic keyboards by making sounds with his mouth. Totally cool and executed to perfection.

GregMayoKeyboards

Josh Dion on drums and vocals. Aside from being a mind-bogglingly great drummer and being an outstanding vocalist, Josh Dion is flat out exciting. If you’re not mesmerized by his performance, check your pulse, literally!

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Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Two sets in a row with Chris playing bass? Yes please! Very different performances. The set before called for more subtlety, this one for all-out rock. Both delivered on the money.

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The Big Apple Singers called up two separate guests.

Zach Jones, also an extraordinary drummer, was invited up to play some electric guitar. Cool! I didn’t know they were going to call him up. Right before the set began, I bumped into Zach and noted that many of my favorite drummers were in the room (Josh Dion, Zach Jones, Kenny Shaw and Seth Faulk). Zach pointed out another drummer as well. I told him that I ant to see them all on stage together, doing something like The Allman Brothers Band does. A boy can dream, right?

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Rebecca Haviland came up to sing one song with Evan. They fed off of each other, building the energy and having a (contagious) blast on stage. If you don’t know Rebecca’s voice and music (she co-writes with Chris Anderson), do yourself a huge favor and correct that oversight right now!

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Manish Gosalia was in the audience for four of the five sets that we attended. Whenever I see Manish at a show, I know two things for certain:

  1. It will be a great show, he has exquisite taste in which bands he likes
  2. There will be exceptional photographs (and sometimes videos) of the show, on his Flickr page. He’s a phenomenal photographer!

Here’s a shot of Manish and Rebecca Haviland:

ManishGosaliaRebeccaHaviland

During the set, Patryk Larney walked over (he headlined the set we attended right before this one) and said: “We’re watching history being made!”. My answer? “Every single time they play!” Smile

We got home shortly before 1:30am. What a night out. After missing five weeks of this NYC music scene, we dove into the deep end without a tank. An exhilarating night out. Amazingly, we skipped another set that I have no doubt would have continued the epic evening. Jay Stolar was up at 1am. It was simply past my ability to fight exhaustion.

Rebecca Haviland at Rockwood Music Hall

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Rebecca Haviland at Rockwood Music Hall? We’re there. We’d go even if we knew it would be identical to the last show, but this time I knew there would be at least a small twist. One of her band members, Greg Mayo, was playing in Washington, DC, so something would be different. It turns out that her drummer Kenny Shaw wasn’t there either.

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Rebecca didn’t replace Greg at the keyboards, nor his vocals, so the set was a bit more stripped down and raw. While I will welcome Greg back with open arms, I have to admit that there was a grittiness to having Rebecca’s electric guitar be the primary sound (along with her stunning voice) that was an interesting change of pace.

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Rebecca just finished tracking (perhaps even mixing) a new CD, after a successful Kickstarter campaign. I believe that most of last night’s set will be on the CD. Another thing to look forward to in the coming months! Here’s the set list:

SetList

Rebecca got the crowd singing (pretty loudly) on If You (I never need an invitation for that one! In fact, it hurts me not to also sing on the lead-in, “If you want me to”, but I muzzle myself.).

She was supported by two outstanding musicians, with a very special surprise guest on one number.

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Chris co-wrote many of the songs with Rebecca. Their collaboration works perfectly in my opinion. Chris always sings a bunch on Rebecca’s sets, but with Greg Mayo out last night, it was always the two of them, rather than the occasional three-part harmony.

ChrisAnderson

Another effect of having Greg out was the lack of keyboard solos. Chris made up for one by kicking a** and taking numbers on a long and terrific bass solo. Even when Greg returns, I hope they keep that in the set!

ChrisAndersonBass

Dave Burnett on drums. Dave did a fantastic job throughout the set. I admit to be a little worried during the first number (Direction). Dave was great on that too, but a bit more hyper at times than Kenny Shaw’s style and it felt a little out of place to me. I never had that feeling again on the rest of the numbers. Dave is just flat out excellent.

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Evan Watson came up to sing and play harmonica on Whiskey. His harmonica play was great. He took a verse on the lead and was absolutely wonderful.

Update: almost every time I second guess my memory, I put in incorrect information in the blog. it happened again this time. Because they joked about Whiskey, I said that Evan played on Whiskey, even though I was pretty sure he didn’t. Today, Manish Gosalia posted a video of the song Evan played on, Dig My Grave. Sorry folks, that’s what I remembered, but I overruled myself… 🙁

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In a fitting moment, Rebecca called for him to come up and she didn’t spot him right away. When she asked if he was still in the room, he called out that he was just getting a Whiskey at the bar. Winking smile

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Rebecca announced that she’d be back at Rockwood sometime in November and then again in December, though the specific dates haven’t been booked yet. If we’re in town, we’ll be there, no question about it.

Manish Gosalia is an exceptional photographer. As important, he has superb taste in music, as I find myself at many of the same shows he’s at. He has always put up a photo or two of each show, but lately I feel like he’s sharing more of them (which is a very good thing). He put up a slideshow of last night’s set. Enjoy!

Big Apple Singers and Mighty Kate at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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What do you do when an extremely talented group of musicians doesn’t blow you away, then announces a new show? You go, without hesitation. No two shows are alike and the likelihood of a repeat experience is low.

When I noticed that The Big Apple Singers (TBAS) were playing last night at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 at 10:15pm, I admit to a second’s hesitation (making my second sentence above a bit of a white lie). However, when I also noticed that it would be a night of songs exclusively by The Band and would likely be TBAS last show for a while (ever?), I really had no hesitation.

It was a fantastic set. The only complaint was that much of it was too loud, but not in exactly the same way as the last time.

TBAS is four people and they brought up four guests as well. I’ll get to the guests after I mention the main guys. Left-to-right on the stage:

Greg Mayo on keyboards (grand piano and organ) and vocals. Greg has an excellent voice and he put it to good use last night on leads and harmonizing with the others. Greg is my favorite local guitarist, but he doesn’t play guitar in TBAS. Greg is an excellent keyboardist (aside from seeing him with TBAS before, that’s his instrument of choice in his own band, the Greg Mayo Band).

GregMayoPiano

I have always enjoyed Greg’s keyboard play (at every show), but last night he took it up a notch. He played some parts with both hands on the grand, others with both hands on the organ and many with his left on the organ and right on the grand. All were tingle-worthy.

GregMayoOrganPiano

All three of the lead vocalists (including Greg) took one very long solo (without any accompaniment whatsoever) to start off one song each. Greg’s was entirely on the organ. He played for somewhere between 3-5 minutes while everyone on stage and in the audience stared at him and his fingers in amazement.

GregMayoOrganSolo

Evan Watson on electric guitar and vocals. Evan is an excellent guitarist and has a powerful voice. As I mentioned in my last post about TBAS, he’s very generous on stage. When Josh sings or does a drum solo, Evan squats on the stage so that the audience can see Josh. I didn’t mention it in the last post, but this is the second time that Evan broke a string on his primary guitar. Just like last show, rather than string a new one, he grabbed a spare electric guitar on the next number.

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Just like Greg above, Evan took a 3-5 minute solo on the electric guitar to kick off a song. It wasn’t too flashy, more like a building melody that kept the crowd interested, with their pulse (or at least mine) rising slowly but surely throughout, so that we were primed for the full band to kick in when the solo was done.

On the last number, Evan wailed on the harmonica quite well. I knew he wasn’t going to play it again that set, because when he was done with the harmonica, he tossed it (unceremoniously) on the floor and immediately switched to a guitar lead. Smile

EvanWatsonHarmonica

Josh Dion on drums and vocals. I was late to the party on hearing about and seeing Josh. He’s a favorite of many people whom I respect and that goes for me as well now that I’ve seen him a number of times (on drums and on keyboards). He’s an excellent singer and an amazing drummer.

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Just like Greg and Evan, Josh took a 3-5 minute solo. He’s soulful when he’s drumming slowly and blazingly fast when the sticks are just a blur. At either speed, he’s tasty and captivating. The looks on the band’s faces (let alone the crowd’s) were priceless!

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Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. Chris did a great job on the bass. In addition to singing harmony, Chris took the lead on a verse in at least two separate songs. The only other time I’ve heard Chris sing lead was at the last TBAS show. He does it quite well.

ChrisAndersonBassChrisAndersonSinging

Rebecca Haviland on vocals. Rebecca jumped up on stage a number of times. Twice by herself and two other times with the ladies I will mention next. What can I say about Rebecca’s voice that I haven’t said before? Well, I’ve mentioned how powerful it is (coming from a tiny person), but not how easily she was able to be heard over the too-loud music. Such a force. Rebecca has her own set at Rockwood 1 on Thursday at 8pm. We’ll be there. Join us and experience this dynamo first hand!

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The first time Rebecca came up, three other women joined. Two of them are the leads in a group called The Vanity Belles. Carrie Welling (no good individual link) and Jessi Rae Waltz (also no good link) both added to the vocals and dancing, standing on either side of Rebecca. Both Carrie and Jessi joined Rebecca on a second song later in the set.

CarrieWellingRebeccaHavilandJessRaeWaltzAshleyLehmann

Ashley Lehmann joined Rebecca and The Vanity Belles the first time they were all up on stage. Considering that all four members of TBAS sing (well!), that made eight voices rockin’ it out on that number. Fantastic!

I am very glad to went to see TBAS again. Smile

Before going to a show at Rockwood, I always check to see who’s playing the set before. Aside from the opportunity to discover good music serendipitously, I do it because Rockwood has limited seating and we prefer to sit. Back in January, when doing exactly that, the set before was Mighty Kate (Katy Pfaffl).

MightyKatePiano

If you visit the site I linked above, at the time I’m typing this, the song Better Days starts playing automatically. That’s all I needed to hear to know we’d be attending the earlier set independent of the desire to sit. Unfortunately, Katy (or should I call her Kate, or Mighty?) got very sick and canceled that set back in January. I admit that I forgot to track her, but it turned out she didn’t reschedule until last night anyway (I’ll explain later!).

Imagine my surprise when I checked who was on before TBAS and immediately recognized the site and song. This was a no-brainer, we weren’t going to miss a second chance to see Kate/Katy/Mighty (OK, I’ll stop now). Winking smile

The set before Katy was a paid show, so even though we arrived way too early for her set, we had to wait outside. Thankfully, the weather was nice (it ended up pouring at some point while we were enjoying the two sets and was nice when we left again!).

Even though we were the first two to line up for Katy, the line got long pretty quickly. It was amusing to see how many people showed up claiming to be performing with Katy. It felt like a cast of thousands (it ended up being seven people in total).

Kate (see what I did there, I switched to her performing name) started the set off solo, playing the grand piano and singing. A very mellow, jazzy number that highlighted both her incredible voice and her excellent piano skills. Not the greatest song to grab a somewhat noisy crowd by the throat, but for those who listened, a well executed opener.

For the most of the remaining numbers (very few exceptions), Kate was joined by a drummer and bassist (electric). I’ll get to them shortly.

In addition to having such a great voice, Kate is also a mutli-instrumentalist. In addition to her piano play (most of the songs), she played an acoustic guitar (mostly picking, a little strumming) and a violin (on one number). She’s good on all three, but the piano play was the strongest (and most consistent).

MightyKateViolin

Not every song grabbed me, but all were very pleasant to listen to. Some were great. Many of the lyrics were deep, sophisticated and flowed very naturally. She’s a very talented woman (more on that in a bit).

Rich Mercurio on drums. I can’t find a good individual link for him, but here’s a summary on a band page (a little outdated, but wildly impressive nonetheless):

Manhattan based producer/musician/songwriter, has produced and written for various record and television projects. Rich has recorded and/or performed with artists including Enrique Iglesias, Jewel, Chris Whitley, Vitamin C, Jonatha Brooke, Michael Bolton, and Ronan Tynan. Appearances include The Tonight Show, The Late Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brian. He can currently be seen in the broadway production, Martin Short, Fame Becomes Me

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Richard Hammond on electric bass. Read his performances and discography. Be prepared to have your mouth agape while you’re doing it.

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That accounts for two of the seven people that performed with Kate, the two Rich’s (as she called them) forming the core band members.

Matt Doyle joined Kate to sing a cover, Thin Air by Aqualung. Kate played acoustic guitar and they sang harmony throughout. They were amazing together. Matt’s voice was buttery smooth.

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This is as good a time as any to fill in why Kate waited five months to reschedule at Rockwood. Both she and Matt are currently appearing in War Horse at Lincoln Center. While Kate was on stage entertaining us, War Horse was winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play! Nicely done, Kate, Matt and all involved in the play.

Kate brought out two women to sing harmony with her on two numbers. Morgan Paige and Nisha Asnani. Very nicely done ladies.

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Jody Shelton joined Kate toward the end of the set for another duet with Kate on acoustic guitar. Another winning combo. In other words, in addition to singing so well alone, Kate is masterful at singing harmony with others and at choosing the right people to sing with.

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OK, we’re down to one last (very special) guest. Kate brought out Scott Chasolen to accompany her on piano while she sang a gospel song (the only song that Kate did not play an instrument on). Scott wowed us the only other time we’ve seen him, at a recent Rockwood-based Backscratch show. I found out after the show that Scott is Kate’s husband. They too were well matched, but Scott, who has an excellent voice himself, didn’t sing on this number.

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Kate closed the set with Morgan and Nisha singing harmony. She explained that she tries really hard to sing at least one new song every time she performs. Given her current schedule, she hasn’t had much time to write. She performed a song that she said she wrote mostly in her head, Bright Star. It was awesome, truly, so perhaps we need to lock her in her loft bed (I think that’s where she said she wrote it) more often. Smile

There was quite a large crowd there for Kate and they wouldn’t let her get off the stage when her set was over. She was given permission to play one more. She performed it solo on the piano. It was another brand new song, that she begged forgiveness for in advance if we didn’t like it. This was the first time anyone was hearing it in public.

Kate, no need to worry, it too was beautiful. Lois was particularly drawn to that last number, so you left us on a high note. Smile

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Big Apple Singers at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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I started the first of four posts tonight (this being the 4th and final one) with a question as to whether this night would turn out to be as epic as I expected. If you read posts #2 and #3, you’ll know that there were enough frustrations to make that highly unlikely.

That said, there was the promise that this final set would put the night over the top. After all, it was a similar setup to The Narwhals who completely blew me away just a few nights earlier. If you only want to hear glowing things about these musicians, read that post and stop now!

The two main people in The Narwhals are Josh Dion and Greg Mayo, both extraordinary musicians (multi-instrumentalists and vocalists). Both are equally highlighted in The Big Apple Singers (TBAS). In this configuration, Josh moves from the keyboards to the drums and Greg moves from guitar to the keyboards.

Another main person (likely the leader of TBAS) is Evan Watson on the electric guitar and vocals. Rounding out the group is one of our favorite bassists (and people), Chris Anderson.

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A disclaimer is necessary, for people who don’t regularly read my blog. I write this blog for 1.5 reasons. The main reason is simply to document the things we do that we want to remember for as long as we live. We know memories are fleeting (in the sense of accuracy). The minor one is to promote the musicians that we have fallen in love with, but that’s really secondary.

The few negative things I have to say about last night’s set are for me to remember how I felt, not to knock people who have more talent in their pinkie than I have in my whole body. Also, I might be the only person in the overwhelmingly crowded Rockwood Music Hall stage 2 that felt this way. The joint was jumping and everyone there appeared to be enjoying one of the best sets they’d ever seen (including the friends we were there with!).

So, how could the same basic set of people that thrilled me on Wednesday, just have me enjoying myself a few nights later.

First, everything was so loud (probably to compensate for the huge crowd) that it was all a bit fuzzy. Of course I could make out all the leads, but they were drowned out by the other instruments that were wailing along rather than subtly accompanying the leads. On Wed, due to the blizzard keeping the audience smaller, everything was a more reasonable volume and the clarity of every note was outstanding.

Second, while The Narwhals played a set of only covers, TBAS played both covers and originals. Some of the originals had excellent musicianship, but were hardly stellar songs (IMO). There was also one direct comparison. Both groups played The Shape I’m In by The Band (TBAS opened with it). TBAS did it well, The Narwhals were awesome. I guess that set the tone for me early on and TBAS never overcame it for me (with one notable exception).

Left-to-right on the stage:

Greg Mayo on grand piano, electronic keyboards and vocals. Wonderful on everything.

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Evan Watson on electric guitar and vocals. Evan is a very good guitarist, but a little too heavy handed for my taste. It’s possible that it was this particular show or set list. I’m already planning on catching him with his other band, The Headless Horesemen, on February 17th, so I’ll get a second look. He has a very good voice and classic hard-rock theatrics.

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Josh Dion on drums and vocals. Awesome on the drums, great vocals. He took one very long drum solo. When he was done, Evan challenged him to crank it up. He did. The second solo was dramatically faster than the first. I still don’t know how his arms didn’t fly off. That said, just like my comment about Vinnie Sperrazza from Wednesday, Josh is even better in his drumming on every single song than his solos.

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Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. In the past, we’ve only heard Chris sing harmony, mostly when he’s playing with Ian Axel. Last night, during one song, Chris took an entire verse himself. He was great and the audience let him know it.

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Robbie Gil was brought up as a special guest singer for one song. Robbie performed the set before TBAS and Josh Dion and Greg Mayo played in his band. I was sorry to miss that set (and will correct that as soon as possible), but we were next door at stage 1 seeing Derek James.

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Robbie kicked off another The Band song but insisted that each of the other band members sing at least one verse (that’s the song that Chris took a lead on). Robbie’s voice was wonderful as was his spirit on the stage. It’s the one exception I noted above to nearing the feeling I had on Wednesday.

Another thing that we rarely see, which we applaud, was Evan Watson squatting (Chris as well) whenever Josh Dion was singing lead. How rare to get a peek at the drummer, tucked way in the far corner at Rockwood 2. A wonderful touch.

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When they were done, even though they had passed their allotted time, people wanted more (remember, nearly every person there appeared to me to have loved every single second of the set!). After getting permission (which seemed to take longer than usual), the band reconfigured themselves.

Josh Dion took the keyboards, Greg Mayo the guitar and Evan Watson the drums. They did a Josh Dion original. Very nice and a little twist to end the evening.

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The Narwhals at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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After back-to-back sets at Rockwood Music Hall stage 1 we headed the three feet next door to Rockwood 2 to see a (newly formed?) band called The Narwhals. That link is directly to Josh Dion’s own site (a hard to read one, I’m afraid). Don’t search for a band site by that name (at least not today), because on Facebook, there is another band by that same name…

The Narwhals is a band headed by Josh Dion. We just saw Josh for the first time on Monday night at the Soul Revue Benefit concert. Even though he only sang lead on one song, it was obvious that he is extremely talented (singing and drumming). I would have gone just to see Josh, but there were two other reasons to be more excited.

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The first is that someone told me that Greg Mayo was part of The Narwhals. ‘Nuff said on that score! The second is that scheduled to play after The Narwhals was Live Society, the band that opened the Soul Revue that I was also excited to see again.

Given that Josh is a drummer, I was expecting to see Greg on the piano. Ha, just show up and don’t assume anything. Smile

Josh took to the keyboards last night, grand piano and electronic. He also alternated singing lead with Greg on every other song. The two of them sang harmony (incredibly) on most songs. I know nothing about Josh Dion, so there’s really nothing that should surprise me about him. Now I know a little more.

Specifically, I know that he’s an amazing keyboards player (not something I usually associate with someone who’s made their mark as a drummer!). He was crazy good on both the piano and the electronic keyboards, which he played in a variety of funky organ sounds/styles.

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His voice is wonderful (and perfectly suited to the music they played). His energy is infectious, not just to the audience, but to the band as well. Given that this is a relatively new effort, there had to be an awful lot of looking at Josh for a cue by the other members. Trust me, get out to see Josh Dion do whatever he’s doing, whether it’s The Narwhals, or any other project he’s involved with.

They covered some of my favorite classic rock tunes. A few from Traffic, The Band and a number of others. I know there are some great cover bands out there. Many (most?) concentrate on a specific group. The better ones often aim to mimic the original exactly (that’s great if they pull it off). Often, it’s great for the nostalgia (obviously, we all know the tunes cold), but there’s a stiffness to it.

The Narwhals are so awesome as individual musicians, that their covers don’t lose any of that energy, creativity and relaxed delivery (tight as a group, relaxed as individuals!). And yet, the original tune is never lost in them trying to outdo that version. Hard to explain, but you can’t be a fan of the original versions and not get lost in these updated ones.

Let’s run through the rest of the band. Instead of left-to-right (my usual, egalitarian way), I’ll cover them in terms of their highlighting during last night’s show:

Greg Mayo on lead electric guitar. If you read this space, you know that I am in love with Greg Mayo’s guitar playing. But, you’ll also know that I’m in love with his singing, his piano playing, his energy. OK, I’m in love with everything Greg Mayo (there, I said it, I have a man-crush on him). Smile

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I noted above that I expected him to be playing the piano. Why? I have no idea, since I thought Josh would be playing the drums. At Rockwood 1, someone asked me if I was heading over to see The Narwhals and when I said yes, they said “Josh will be playing keyboards tonight, with Greg on the guitar.” I was enjoying the set at Rockwood 1 (as you can read in my previous post), but I have to admit that I was driven to distraction (momentarily) knowing what I was in for.

Even so, I was wrong again. Not about Greg playing guitar, but by how much more I would get to enjoy it than I had in the past.

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In my previous times seeing Greg play guitar, he was supporting Martin Rivas (quite a number of times). His leads were always amazing, but they were always appropriate in length (in a supporting role), so they always left me wanting more.

When you’re covering classic rock bands during a blizzard, in the middle of the night, it’s largely about the leads (guitar, keyboards and drums). Josh is very generous with making sure that Greg took at least one long lead in every song (typically a few!). My mind is still racing, just thinking about them.

I already mentioned Greg’s voice and the fact that Josh gave Greg the lead vocals in every other song. Wonderful!

Vinnie Sperrazza on the drums. There are a lot of great drummers in the group of people we follow. I have no choice but to add Vinnie to that list, pretty darned close to the top. I actually anticipated it. Given how well thought of Josh Dion is as a drummer, how could he ever choose a drummer that didn’t impress him when he plays another instrument?

Vinnie took one long drum solo. It was extremely impressive. Still, that wasn’t even close to the reason I put him so high on the list. It’s his amazing consistency on how integral his drumming is on each and every song. Even the slower bluesy southern rock numbers have a deceptively up-beat tempo (at least as far as the drums are concerned).

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Geoff Kraly on electric bass. Not highlighted with any bass solos, but a perfectly professional performance in every respect. When the guitar and keyboards take a lot of leads, the bass and drums (but to a certain extent the bass a bit more) need to keep the feel of the song going. In other words, there needs to be a glue that allows the lead to dance while never feeling that they changed the basic structure of what they started.

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A good bassist pulls off that job. Geoff is more than a good bassist, keeping the bottom full. He was never overwhelming, which is very easy to do (unfortunately) with an electric bass. Impressive.

I mentioned above that I was excited to see the next set by Live Society. When I sat down, while The Narwhals were setting up, I did a quick email and Twitter check. I noticed a tweet by Brian Collazo (lead singer of Live Society) that they had to cancel the show due to the blizzard (or, more aptly, snowpocalypse). I was sad, but also relieved that I might make it home a bit earlier than I expected.

Another example of my silliness in thinking that I could predict anything. Of course, with no set on after them, no one was rushing The Narwhals off the stage, least of which the audience! When they tried to call it a night (a little over an hour into the set), people starting yelling out requests.

All of the requests were good and Josh even agreed to one. Then a guy sitting at my table yelled out Whipping Post. Josh got really excited, looking at the guy and saying “Perfect choice!”. The rest of the band instantly agreed.

I can’t tell you how great it was (but I’m gonna try). Here’s what I said to Vinnie as he came off the stage:

The Allman Brothers have three drummers when they perform Whipping Post. You made me feel like all three of them were here on stage. You’re awesome!

Need I tell you how amazing Greg Mayo was on the lead guitar? The Allman Brothers have two lead guitarists. I didn’t miss the second one a bit. But, while I am still madly in love with my recordings of Dickey Betts and Duane Allman, I admit that Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes don’t do it for me when they appear as the Allman Brothers. Both are extraordinary guitarists (there’s no arguing that), but in my opinion, they don’t do justice to the original (no, I don’t require an exact clone). Greg did justice, and obviously, couldn’t have cloned two guys doing it!

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Of course, Josh took some incredible keyboard leads as well and both he and Greg sang their hearts out.

I went up to Greg after the show and told him: “I could listen to you play the guitar 24/7!” (and I meant every word!).

There wasn’t a face that didn’t have a big silly smile plastered on it when the set was over.

Josh and Greg will be back at Rockwood 2 this Saturday (Jan 29) as part of The Big Apple Singers (11:15pm). Lois and I will be there too. Clearly, this will be a different configuration. Evan Watson plays the guitar (I think), so I’m gonna guess that Josh will play the drums and Greg the keyboards. I no longer care. Whatever they want to do, I’m down with it. Smile

I have no quibble with any song The Narwhals chose. That doesn’t mean that my mind wasn’t racing with a ton of covers I’d love to hear them do. That said, I held my tongue last night. Perhaps next time, I’ll venture a shout or two myself.

Back to the blizzard. We walked out of Rockwood at 12:30am. It was sleeting a heavy, freezing snow. It had already piled up a ton and cars were either slipping or completely stuck. Cabs? Ha! Four of us waiting to get one, spreading out trying to catch them from separate strategic approaches.

Amazingly, after about 15 minutes, our friend used her magic powers to hear a cab door unlock. The cab’s lights were totally covered in snow, so there was no other way to know he was available. She yelled to us and we all slished and sloshed over to the cab. After a harrowing (but ultimately very successful ride), we walked in the door after 1am. Two consecutive very late nights out. Both ended in a blissful musical experience. Hard to complain, so I won’t! Smile

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