Gravity Lounge

Girlyman at Gravity Lounge

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Last night we (finally) saw Girlyman again (fifth time for us). It was a long dry spell, lasting exactly 200 days in between shows. During that time, we saw 27 other live shows (all blogged about). If you are a complete masochist, you can see all of those, including a few other music-related but not live-show related posts, at this link.

While the vast majority of the past 27 live shows were awesome, in every respect, there’s something more magical about an evening spent with Girlyman. You have to experience it to understand that, even if you love their CDs.

Not only was last night no exception, it was particularly special, because the venue (Gravity Lounge in Charlottesville, VA) is a very special place to see this kind of group. We’ve been there once before to see The Wailin’ Jennys, and that evening was magical as well.

Gravity Lounge is ultra-intimate. The stage is raised roughly a foot off the seating area, so you’re not craning your neck to look up at the performers. The worst seat in the house isn’t bad, and 80% of the seats are fantastic.

Girlyman has a large repertoire of songs, and we love nearly every one of them, so going to a show will always yield surprises and some (extremely minor) disappointments, given that they simply can’t play everything we’d want to hear. In addition, they are continually writing new songs (all fantastic) and arranging new covers, so the pool of available numbers keeps growing.

They recently started a video blog (low-res version available on YouTube, hi-res version available on Vimeo). You can also video podcast them at iTunes. In those video blogs, you can hear snippets of two new songs and one complete new cover. Last night, they performed the full version of all three.

Easy Bake Ovens hooked me even in the video (as short as it was, from the first video blog). The song is perfect for their soaring harmonies, and the lyrics are fun and insightful as well. They performed it flawlessly last night. They performed Tell Me The Reason (which Doris lip-sync’s on the most recent clip, labeled Video Blog, Part 2). Gorgeous!

Sandwiched in between Part 1 and Part 2, is a video labeled Islands In The Stream, their new cover. The song was made famous by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, but was actually written by the Bee Gees (Lois and I were quite surprised at that, but Wikipedia confirms it). We’ve always liked the song, and there’s nothing wrong with Girlyman’s arrangement, but in my opinion, it was the weakest song of the night (not weak, just weaker than any of the others), and I would personally have preferred them to substitute any of their other songs.

At the very end of the show, they played another new one by Nate. Unfortunately, it isn’t in a video yet, and wasn’t on the printed set list (which we snagged), and I don’t recall the title. Another big winner though, so we (and the rest of you) will need to be on the lookout for the name. πŸ™‚

Speaking of the set list, there was only one song that they planned to play that they didn’t (James Dean). In addition to playing two requests, they also played at least two additional songs that weren’t on the set list. A very generous show indeed!

Of course, they also played many crowd favorites (Joyful Sign, Through To Sunrise, Kittery Tide, Postcards From Mexico, Somwhere Different Now, Storms Were Mine, and quite a number of others!). Speaking of the audience, the overwhelming majority of them were clearly super Girlyfans. The energy in the room was electric and the rapport between Girlyman and the audience was seamless and relaxed.

Ty added a snare drum to her customary djembe. Two of us (I was one of them) simultaneously teased her about not bringing along her collander highhat. You’ll have to watch the first video blog to understand the reference…

After a standing ovation, they returned for their signature encore: Girlyman Benediction and Son Of A Preacher Man. Wonderful! They were on stage for roughly 105 minutes. Given that they had an opening act, the show was long, and satisfying.

Here’s the only picture Lois snapped of them together on the stage. Given that we were in the front row, center, and they were spread out, all other shots have only one or two of them together:

Girlyman

Girlyman

Speaking of opening acts, Nervous But Excited opened for Girlyman last night. The group consists of Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver. Both talented singer/songwriters who harmonize well together (though not as often as they could). They performed five or six numbers. All were good, but they don’t produce the kind of sound Girlyman does, so there was anticipation of the real show, even though they were good.

They ended with Smaller Taller. You can hear that (and a bunch of other tracks from their live CD) here. It was the coolest/best of their stuff, but to repeat, all of their stuff was pretty good. On this last song, Girlyman joined them on the stage. Musically, it was an unecessary addition since they had the audience sing the chorus with them, canceling out the wonderful Girlyman harmonies. But, Nate performed special duties during the song, so it was a blast from that perspective, but you had to be there to appreciate it, so I won’t even describe it. πŸ˜‰

They were on for exactly 30 enjoyable minutes.

As you may know, I’m on a personal mission to increase awareness of this simply amazing group (this == Girlyman). One way to do that is to make sure that people actually see them live (the fastest way to fall in love with them). Toward that end, Lois and I invited 10 Richmond based friends to join us (we were coming from Zope in Fredericksburg). The place only seats about 150 (max), so we would be roughly 10% of the crowd, all by ourselves. πŸ˜‰

Of the 10 friends that we invited, two had seen them before (with us) at the Barns at Wolftrap. That made eight newbies, though half of them have received a Girlyman CD from us in advance well.

We arrived at 5:50pm, thinking that the doors would open at 6pm (which is what they did for the Jennys). When we got there, the door was open, with no one on line, so we walked right in. Girlyman was in the middle of their sound check, and no patrons were there yet. That was a very cool experience for us because the sound checks are off limits to customers, nearly 100% of the time. 10 minutes later, six more people from our group arrived, and with all of the hugging and catching up, the owner of Gravity Lounge realized he should never have left the door open, and he kicked us out. Oh well, at least we were still first in line.

Here’s a shot of them during the sound check. You can also get a good sense of the setup of the room, given that it was empty:

Girlyman Sound Check

Girlyman Sound Check

At 6:30 he opened the door and we went back in and snagged seats in the front and second rows. Lois and I sat front and center, and couldn’t have loved our seats or the show any more! We ordered dinner at the club as well. The food took forever to come out of the kitchen, but was superb and very value priced. The chef came out to apologize to Lois (her food came out dead last, by a long measure). It turns out it was her first night working there. So, she’s not fast, but she’s really good.

Because we were so early, we got to schmooze a bit with each of the Girlypeople, separately. That was a real treat. One of the innovations at this show (and apparently all of them on this tour) is that they record the entire show, and offer the CD for sale afterwards. I have written about this before, when we purchased the CD for a live show of California Guitar Trio at BB King. This is slightly different. Girlyman doesn’t burn the CDs on the spot (like CGT did), but mails them to you later. We trust them, and are looking forward to our CD in a few weeks.

Here’s a shot of Doris and me, proving the above schmoozing claim: πŸ˜‰

Doris and Hadar

Doris and Hadar

After saying our goodbyes (to our friends, and later to Girlyman), we didn’t need to feel badly about how long it would take us to see them again. We’re heading in exactly the opposite direction from Fredericksburg tonight, to Alexandria, VA, to see them at the Birchmere. Tonight, we’re bringing 13 people with us (total of 15), and again only two of those have seen them before (with us). So, we continue to do our part in spreading the word.

Now, the rest of you, get on the stick and spread the word!!! πŸ™‚

Rascal Flatts at Madison Square Garden

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Last night we finally saw Rascal Flatts at Madison Square Garden (MSG). I have written a number of times about the company that owns MSG (and also Radio City Music Hall and The Beacon Theater). That company is a subsidiary of Cablevision. They run their concerts like clockwork, and I think that is extremely customer friendly.

Actually, The Beacon Theater is an exception. Both MSG and Radio City are like on-time trains. The Beacon is more relaxed (in the bad sense), and often starts the shows pretty late.

Last night started at exactly 8pm (as announced), with Kellie Pickler. We were far enough away that I couldn’t appreciate her beauty. Her voice is good, and the songs are good enough. That said, given the lousy acoustics of MSG, there was nothing special about her performance, or her group’s. I was impressed that many of the people in our section sang along to every word of her songs, so the draw last night wasn’t exclusively Rascal Flatts.

She performed eight songs, for 36 minutes, and was definitely a hit with the crowd.

After a 24 minute break, the lights went off at exactly 9pm.

Like I said above, we were extremely far from the stage. In fact, exactly opposite the stage. For all I know, we were in the exact same seats that we were in for the Kenny Chesney show. Smack in the middle of the floor, there was a large round stage with the words Rascal Flatts on it. Before Kellie came on, Lois conjectured that perhaps Rascal Flatts would perform there. I was sure she was wrong, because there was no access to that area.

It wasn’t used during Kellie’s performance, and we both noted that the people sitting at the seats on the floor behind that structure seemed like they got ripped off, since seeing over it to the real stage appeared to be obstructed.

After the lights went off at 9pm, we started to hear the music without seeing the band yet. When the lights came on (to the crowd’s frenzy), the three guys in Rascal Flatts (RF) were emerging (rising) from the circular center stage. The rest of the band (five other musicians) were on the main stage. The crowd went nuts, and suddenly, our seats weren’t so bad. The previously awful seats on the floor, were now front-row good.

They sang one song in that configuration, and toward the end of the number, a very large bridge came down from the ceiling, connecting the circular center stage with the main stage. They each walked (one at a time) over the bridge, while continuing the song, and ended it on the main stage. Holy moly, it was amazing! Then the bridge went up, and they covered the center stage again, and all was back to normal.

Here’s a shot of them after the center stage was up and lit. You can see the bridge clearly behind the stage. Click the photo to enlarge it:

Opening Number from Rascal Flatts at MSG

They are absolutely amazing performers, and the symbiosis with the crowd is at least as good as it is with Kenny Chesney’s shows (which are legendary). As I’ve said before (and even earlier in this post), the acoustics at MSG are horrible. Every single note on the bass guitar literally shakes the floor and the seat you’re sitting in. Guitar solos are piercing (not in the good sense).

None of that mattered last night. If you were there to hear music, in silence, it would be disappointing (though I doubt that RF is capable of disappointing!). But, I would describe last night (as did they) as more of an amazing party, than an acoustical event where you come just to hear the music. For this kind of show, you come to be part of the music. Lois described it as an old-time revival meeting.

Gary LeVox (the lead singer) has an absolutely incredible voice. We’ve known that, but it’s also powerful enough to be able to overcome the horrible acoustics, reasonably well. In other words, he was absolutely amazing last night.

That said, he was particularly sensitive to the fact that the crowd wanted to sing every single word of every single song along with him. He began most songs singing relatively softly, in order to let you hear the crowd pretty clearly. Then, as the song built momentum, he would raise his volume and show you what makes him so special.

All three of them have wonderful personalities and interacted with the crowd in delightful ways. After a bunch of amazing numbers, the bridge came down again. At the time, all three RF guys were on the main stage. But, when the circular stage came up, there was a drummer with a drum set on it. Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus went across the bridge to join the drummer. When the light faded on the main stage, Gary LeVox was left on the other side.

Jay DeMarcus normally plays bass, but on the center stage, he played an electric piano, extremely well. The three guys (Jay, Joe and the drummer) played two or three numbers, that were much mellower, but excellent nonetheless. Then the bridge came back down, and Gary joined them. They played a bunch of numbers. The center stage rotated very slowly (in both directions!), so that everyone could see every one of them, from every angle.

Here’s a shot of the three of them plus the drummer, playing a set on center stage (click to see a larger photo):

Rascal Flatts plus Drummer on Center Stage

Then the bridge came down again, and the three of them went back to the main stage. They continued doing smash hit after smash hit. Other than chatting occasionally to the crowd, there were almost no breaks between songs. When they finally said goodnight, they had played for 94 minutes. The lights stayed off, so we knew they would be coming back for an encore (how could they not?).

Here’s a shot of the entire stage. You can see that they had giant screens where they showed videos, stills, colors, etc. If you look closely on the top left quadrant, you can make out the bridge that’s hanging in the air (at least the steps on either end), and on the bottom of the black blob on the left, are a person’s legs hanging down. I believe he’s the bridge operator. Again, click to enlarge:

Rascal Flatts at Madison Square Garden

Immediately after they started the last song of the evening (the last one before the encore, that is), 10 Marines in full dress uniform marched on to the stage, and stood in a line behind the band. The crowd started to clap loudly even before Gary encouraged them to, at which point essentially the entire crowd stood up and gave a giant ovation to the Marines, who saluted back. I can’t begin to tell you how unusual it is in NYC, and I don’t know if it’s more Country Music Fans in this case, or respect for the choice that Rascal Flatts made, but it was heartwarming nonetheless.

When the lights came back on, Gary was alone rising from the center stage again, but you could hear one or two instruments on the main stage, which was still dark. He started singing one of their signature tunes, Here’s To You (which I predicted to Lois they would do for the encore). When the song began to build, the bridge came back down, the lights came on the main stage, and he crossed over (slowly, singing to all the people on either side of the bridge along the way).

After that, they played another number. The crowd stood for the entire encore (many people stood for the entire concert, but thankfully, no one who was immediately in front of us in our section).

When we left, Lois said that it was the greatest concert she’d ever been to. I totally understand her enthusiasm, but disagree on the terminology only. As far as concerts go, it’s going to be really hard for me to ever agree that any show at MSG will even come close to hearing someone like Girlyman play an intimate club like Joe’s Pub. That’s not just a gratuitous plug for Girlyman, but a contrast to listening to a concert rather than participating in a party.

It was an awesome night, period, regardless of the acoustics.

Now I have to explain just how magical a night it was for Lois. I’ve written often about The Wailin’ Jennys. We’ve seen them twice live, and like Girlyman, their concerts were both better than the Rascal Flatts one (in my opinion, with the caveats about terminology mentioned above). We’re seeing them again on April 8th at Joe’s Pub (we haven’t seen them there yet), and I literally am on pins and needles with excitement, looking forward to that night.

To continue, Lois really fell in love with them the second time we saw them live, at Gravity Lounge in Charlottesville, VA. Joe’s Pub will be almost as intimate, so we know we’re going to love it. Since then, without a doubt, she plays the Jennys on the iPod in the car, more than any other artist. Still, she plays many others as well.

The one unfailing truth though has been that as we get to within 10 minutes of our house in Westchester, for at least two months now, 100% of the time, Lois always plays Heaven When We’re Home. It captures the spirit we both feel about coming home to our house, which we don’t get to spend as much time in as we’d like.

This morning, we drove back from the city to the house. She played Rascal Flatts songs the entire way, up until we hit the driveway, when she turned off the iPod. I was stunned, no kidding. Clearly, she had RF on the brain, and the Jenny’s couldn’t get through! πŸ˜‰

The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge

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We’re in the middle our usual Zope Trip, which involves a weekend in Virginia. We typically spend the weekend with our friends. They were on a 10-day trip cruising from Italy to Greece, and were scheduled to return late last night (they did).

On Friday afternoon, during a lull in the workday, I decided to check the websites of some of our favorite artists to see where they were touring. The second one that I checked was The Wailin’ Jennys. I’ve written about them before, once when we saw them live, and once when I got their CDs.

I was surprised, and excited, when I saw that they were playing the next night (last night, Saturday) in Charlottesville, VA, at the Gravity Lounge. I could describe Gravity Lounge, perhaps even adequately, but they have a YouTube video tour which I watched, making me want to see the show even more. If you bothered to watch the video, you can see that the setting is up-close and personal. Just like we like it (specifically, at Joe’s Pub in NYC).

We rarely see shows outside of NY, so I wasn’t sure how Lois would react to the idea. We’ve been in Charlottesville a number of times, and think it’s a gorgeous town, but it’s 90-120 minutes from Fredericksburg, depending on the traffic, and while it’s a gorgeous ride, it’s mainly on two lane roads (one in each direction), so it’s easy to get stuck behind someone…

She wasn’t wild about the idea, but she knows how crazy I am about the Jennys, so she agreed reasonably quickly. I snagged two tickets online. If you watched the video, you know that they can seat at most about 150 people, so I was very pleased that there were at least two tickets left. Since it’s a first-come first-served venue, it didn’t matter if I bought the first two or last two tickets!

So, we headed out at 4pm from the hotel, and arrived at Gravity Lounge at 5:45pm, not bad. There were roughly 15 people on line in front of us. They didn’t let us in (even though the front door was open) because the Jennys were doing a sound check, and no one was allowed in until that was done.

When they let us in, we grabbed two seats in the third row, dead center. Once our coats were on the seats, we headed back to the cafe area and ordered wraps for dinner. Very fresh, very cheap, very tasty! We ate in our seats, though there were tables in the cafe area that we could have used, if we hadn’t ordered finger food.

The show was scheduled to begin at 7pm. At 6:30pm, the place seemed relatively empty. We would have been surprised if there were 50 people there by then. At 7pm, when the show was clearly not going to start on time, the place was full, clearly sold out. They started at around 7:15pm.

In addition to the serendipity of me finding out about this late Friday afternoon, having two tickets left, and us being available, it turns out that this was the last show on the Jennys year-long tour. Their next date is February 7, 2008, in British Columbia! So, this was extra-special, for them as well, as they could collapse after putting on this show!

We were roughly 12 feet from the performers. The intimacy was amazing. I’ve written in the past at the vast difference in feel of Wicked (on Broadway) when we have sat in the first few rows versus sitting further back. This was like that too. When we saw the Jennys in Tarrytown, we were in the 13th row, dead center. In addition to being considerably further back, the theater there is so much larger, and well, theater-like (tall ceiling, etc.) that everything is wildly different about the experience.

The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge

Click on the image above to see it full size.

As with Wicked, to Lois, being this close up made a world of difference, and she connected with the Jennys much more than she did in Tarrytown. I too felt the connection (as did the entire crowd), and noticed things I didn’t in Tarrytown (like the one boy Jenny, Jeremy Penner, who I thought was 20 years older at Tarrytown).

In my last post, I pointed you to their web site for their musical backgrounds. I won’t go into too much detail here, but I feel the need to give them a little more direct play. The leader of the group is Ruth Moody. She sings like an angel. She reminds me a little of Alison Krauss in that both sing in a register so high that most humans have trouble hearing it, let alone attempting to hit those notes. That said, Alison Krauss hits those notes with the clarity of a bell, and Ruth hits them with a breathy sultriness (still nailing each individual note every time) that is sufficiently different than Alison.

In addition to an angelic voice, Ruth plays the guitar, banjo, concertina (small accordian), percussion, all brilliantly. Nicky Mehta sings one register lower (though she can hit high notes flawlessly), and she plays the guitar, drums and harmonica, brilliantly as well. Heather Masse (the newest Jenny, third in the role she is in) sings bass amazingly (complementing and rounding out the vocal range of the three) and plays the bass as well (yes, to overuse the word, brilliantly).

Jeremy Penner doesn’t sing, but plays the fiddle and mandolin brilliantly. You could weep at some of his solos, and they are reasonably generous in highlighting his skills.

Jeremy Penner at Gravity Lounge

Click on the image above to see it full size.

Their songs are gorgeous, and flowing, and the words are generally very powerful as well. That said, the magic happens when they harmonize together. It’s stunning.

So, how did this show compare to the one in Tarrytown? For Lois, this was much better. Seeing everything up close, and hearing the power of their voices in such an intimate setting, made her appreciate them more than she did in Tarrytown. For me, I loved last night’s show, but Tarrytown was better acoustically. Last night was a little more raw, in that we were close to the speakers, and in between them. In Tarrytown, as I reported before, the acoustics were nearly perfect, and the entire feeling was significantly more lush. No complaints about last night, the raw-ness was a great experience, just different, and not as beautiful to me personally.

As I mentioned for Tarrytown as well, the Jennys connect with the audience wonderfully. They are so natural on the stage. That said, the stories were mostly identical to the ones at Tarrytown, delivered with the same apparent impromptu-ness. Don’t get me wrong, they were delivered flawlessly, and the audience loved it (as did we), but, Girlyman mixed in new stories the second time we saw them, which was a nicer touch. πŸ˜‰

Ah, so we snuck in a mention of Girlyman, finally! So, Lois was shocked (pre-concert) when I told her that I liked the Jennys 80-90% as much as Girlyman (she thought that was blasphemous!). I think she may not feel quite the same as I do about the Jennys, but she inched up a lot closer after last night. For me, as amazing as the Jennys are (I listen to their CDs a lot), Girlyman still beats them out, on a number of levels.