Highline Ballroom

Paper Raincoat and Gregory Alan Isakov at Highline Ballroom

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Looking for a night of good music in NYC? Every night of the week will present difficult choices. Occasionally, those decisions achieve Solomonic proportions. Last night was one of those nights. I had Carley Tanchon and Joey Ryan in our calendar for quite a while. Carley was appearing at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 at 7pm and Joey was at Rockwood 2 at 9pm.

Everything changed when a month ago, The Paper Raincoat (TPR) announced that they were appearing at Highline Ballroom on the same night. It’s not (necessarily) the case that we would always choose to see TPR over Joey. It’s that opportunities to see TPR live are rarer nowadays than they used to be.

We last saw TPR on September 7th, 2010. We have seen Joey live three times since then.

TPR was sandwiched between two other acts. I’ll cover them first since we showed up expressly to see them.

TPR is comprised of two people, Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth. They (nearly) always have a drummer, but which one will show up to any particular show has been a surprise lately (last night included). They often have special guests join them, last night was no exception.

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The 9-song set was well chosen, kicking off with perhaps my favorite TPR song, Brooklyn Blurs.

The second song was Sympathetic Vibrations with its signature audience-participatory clapping. Our table (well, four of the six of us) clapped on cue (perfectly if I may say so myself). But, it seemed to us that very few people in the extremely crowded audience were clapping with us.

We must have been correct, because a little bit later in the song, ambeR looked at Alex and said that it might be a good idea to teach the audience the clap (it’s sophisticated) Winking smile. After the lesson, more people joined us.

The next song, Motion Sickness has become a sing-along in the last year (mostly at solo Alex Wong shows). Half the audience sings the na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na part and the other half sings the ah, ah, ah ah ah part. Alex always seems to get the entire audience doing their part. Last night, the singing was anemic (except for our table, again).

I can’t tell whether the majority of the audience was unfamiliar with TPR or they were shy.

After playing The Same Old Things, Rough Cut, Don’t Be Afraid and Right Angles, they played another favorite (OK, I admit that the entire set was comprised of favorites), It All Depends. First, a photo of Alex and ambeR playing the keyboards together on Right Angles:

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As they started It All Depends, Alex tossed (yes, actually threw) a tambourine at Lois. I was shocked and impressed when she caught it without flinching.

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The rest of us did our clapping part until the finale, where Alex (and shortly after) ambeR both joined the drummer with all three of them drumming on the same drum set at the same time. I never tire of it and I never will! Of course, without Lois’ tambourine play, the entire song would just be boring. Winking smile

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They closed the set with their signature a cappella Rewind, wonderfully!

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The drummer for last night was Sarab Singh who is the regular drummer for a hot local group, Harper Blynn (they have a new site coming too). We’ve seen Sarab once before, supporting ambeR’s solo show at Highline as well. He’s very good, but it took a few songs for him to settle into a good rhythm with TPR. The kick drum was mic’ed too loud and made my hair flutter every time he kicked it.

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Alex is an amazing producer. TPR’s self-titled CD (absolutely incredible) is but one of his masterpieces. One of Alex’s specialties is crafting string arrangements that blend perfectly with Pop music. Last night we were treated to two top musicians playing some of those arrangements live.

Melissa Tong on violin. Melissa was wonderful (as always) throughout the set, but in particular, the opening for Right Angles is all violin.

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David Fallo on viola. David too was wonderful (as always) throughout. He too was highlighted a number of times, most notably on Don’t Be Afraid where David took the lead.

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Another surprise occurred during Rough Cut. There is a local dance troupe called Insight Dance Company. Last year they set a ballet to the music of Ian Axel. They are currently working on a number of pieces by TPR and will be putting on a show in the Spring (I believe). ambeR called them up (six of them, I believe) to dance while TPR performed Rough Cut. It was interesting, but the stage was definitely an obstacle course for the dancers. It will be more interesting to see them in their own element.

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After a 20-minute break, the headliner (co-billed) took the stage.

Gregory Alan Isakov sings, plays the guitar and the harmonica. I’ve heard of him but knew nothing about his music. He headlined a show at Highline where Rosi Golan opened for him. We had hoped to make that show but couldn’t. I’m told he played solo that night. Last night he was joined by three musicians.

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I was impressed by Gregory’s voice, very rich and clear. That said, he had a setup I’ve never seen before, two microphones inches apart. One was normal and the other had a couple of effects attached to it (including heavy reverb, but more importantly, a vocal distortion). While it was technically interesting to see him switch (even in the middle of a song) from one mic (and sound) to another, I strongly preferred the normal mic to the more synthesized voice. It’s a gimmick (to me) and I can do without it.

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It’s often tough for me to hang on to lyrics when seeing someone new the first time. Aside from the fact that there is so much else going on (when there are other musicians), big spaces aren’t conducive for really close listening. Still, on occasion I heard some very interesting phrases making me feel that Gregory is a poet first and foremost, but it will require more listening for me to be sure.

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

Philip Parker on cello and vocals. Phil did a really nice job on the cello. He actually played it as much as an upright bass (plucking it) as he did as a cello (with a bow). While I could see him move his lips on many songs, I would be lying if I said I could hear a single sound coming from his mic. Before I got to say that to Lois, she told me that she thought he did a nice job singing with Gregory, so it might have just been me who couldn’t pick out his voice.

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Jeb Bows on violin. I was very impressed with Jeb’s play and felt that he was the most critical part of enhancing Gregory’s sound. Gregory came out for a two-song encore, the first of which was just Gregory and Jeb, validating my feeling that Jeb was more central to Gregory’s sound. On a number of songs Jeb plucked the violin. We’ve seen that before (in fact Melissa did it during the TPR set). But, for the first time in my experience, much of Jeb’s plucking sounded a lot like a mandolin. Cool!

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James Han on electronic keyboards. James had two keyboards placed at a right angle. He swiveled to play one or the other. His play was quite understated, but also excellent. It fit the mood of Gregory’s music very well.

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Paul Dempsey opened the show at 7pm on the dot (always a pleasure when shows start when they’re supposed to). He has an easy charm, a good voice and plays the guitar well enough to accompany himself. His song intros (very short) amused us. Other than a few choice phrases though, I can’t say that the lyrics made an impression on me.

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He played for exactly half an hour.

Six of us had dinner before the show. The food and drinks at Highline are always a treat and our service last night was excellent as well. Another fun night out with friends, sharing some laughs, some food and a lot of music.

The Grascals at Highline Ballroom

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When a band plans a tour there is very little wiggle room in any given city. They’re generally on the move all night (if they have a professional bus driver), or all day (if they’re driving themselves). There are many things you can’t control when planning months in advance.

Two such things are the unbelievably frigid temps currently inhabiting NYC (thanks global warming!) and the local team making the championship game in the NFL (thanks J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!). Smile

The weather and the Jets might have kept some fans from making it out last night (entirely their loss!), but it didn’t stop The Grascals from blowing away those of us who were smart enough to choose them!

This was our third time seeing The Grascals and it most certainly won’t be our last. The other three people at our table had never seen them before. They are indescribably amazing (or, as one of the people we saw it with noted: “The Grascals are truly absurdly talented”). Of course, I’ll still do my humble best to give you a sense of their magic.

Highline Ballroom is a wonderful place to see a show, in particular one with a big group and a big sound. The Grascals are that.

While all six members of The Grascals blend perfectly together, I actually view them as two separate groups (more accurately, a group within a group). Each group is great in their way but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. To whet your appetite, check out the amazing number of awards they’ve won as a group and as individuals.

Group #1 is a core vocal and rhythm driven ensemble comprised of Jamie Johnson (guitar and vocals), Terry Eldredge (guitar and vocals) and Terry Smith (upright bass and vocals). The three of them sing so well individually (each sings lead) and together (three-part harmony on every non-instrumental song). Jamie and Terry share MC honors, keeping everything light and funny in between songs.

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Terry Smith is also a top-notch bassist. On two numbers he demonstrated a perfect slap technique that was a blast to listen to and watch.

Group #2 is comprised of three of the best instrumentalists you’ll ever hear (they don’t even have vocal mic’s so you never hear them speak or sing). Danny Roberts is an incredible mandolin player. Jeremy Abshire is an extraordinary fiddle player. Kristin Scott Benson is a mind-boggling banjo player (multiple time Banjo Player of the Year winner!).

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Each of Danny, Jeremy and Kristin can give solo performances that knock your socks off. When they play together, most of the time one of them is being highlighted in the lead, but the other two are supporting the effort with complementary riffs. On some songs (only one brief moment last night), they have duels, which have them each repeating the same riff in a competition where the only winner is the audience!

When Groups #1 and #2 combine (on most songs), you get the best of both worlds. Amazing vocals sprinkled with virtuoso leads on the mandolin, fiddle and banjo.

They were all on fire last night, and the audience gave extended ovations after every number (and for nearly every lead during each song). Each of the three soloists was brilliant.

Jamie then thanked us and introduced the last song, Sally Goodin, off of their self-titled album (The Grascals, for those of you not paying any attention). On that CD, the song is just under four minutes, and features incredible solos on the fiddle, banjo, mandolin and then around again.

Last night, as incredible as each of Jeremy, Danny and Kristin was, this last song took it to another level. I didn’t have a second of disappointment during the earlier numbers, but after this, I realized that they were holding something in reserve.

Jeremy opened the number (just like on the CD). After his solo, Kristin took hers. Then Danny. Just like on the CD, Danny’s solo was longer than the others, only last night, Danny’s kept going (and going). Then Jeremy walked to the middle of the stage and took over Terry Smith’s vocal mic as everyone else took a few steps back.

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He wailed on the fiddle in one of the longest, most inconceivable solos. Every time it looked like he was about to relinquish the lead, he took it up a notch. You had to be there to believe it. Finally, after leaving us all shivering a bit, Kristin stepped back to her mic and continued the round until they finally called it a night.

Their live version of Sally Goodin lasted over nine minutes. It was more than twice as long as the CD version. Jeremy’s solo itself lasted longer than the entire CD version. All I can say is that if that were the only song they played (meaning, if the entire show was just those 9+ minutes), I would have felt that I had gotten my money’s worth. The rest of the show was a bonus!

Every person at Highline rose to give them a long standing ovation. Of course, they came back for an encore.

New York, those of you who passed on this show have no idea what you missed. OK, perhaps you know now. If you miss the next chance to see The Grascals when they return, it will be on you then. You’ve been warned! Winking smile

After the show, we purchased an EP and one CD that we didn’t already own. Both Jamie and Danny signed them for us.

Here is a representative set list (not the identical one played last night) with the two CDs that we bought:

SetListAndCDs

To top it all off, the five of us shared a fantastic meal and enjoyed each other’s company for two relaxing hours before the show started. The food at Highline Ballroom is wonderful, but our companions were even more wonderful. Smile

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Vienna Teng, Alex Wong and Joey Ryan at Highline Ballroom

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Last night was very special on many levels. At the top of the list was seeing Vienna Teng perform in NYC (at the Highline Ballroom) for the last time in a while (she’s off to grad school later this month!).

Even though Vienna tours the US and Europe regularly, we have come to rely on the fact that NYC was her (temporary) adopted home and we had so many opportunities to see her here over the last year. (We also saw her perform in Atlanta, Birmingham and Norfolk.)

We’re thankful that we made the time to do it, without taking for granted that we could see her whenever we wanted. Her shows will be few and far between over the next three years, but they will happen, and anyone who gets the chance to catch one better do it!

Vienna’s voice and piano playing are magical and last night was no exception. She can soothe the savage beast or impassion the near lifeless.

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In addition to a few typical songs that Vienna invites the crowd to join in on (more on that later), she added Antebellum to the list, inviting us to join her or Alex in their respective parts. I could swear that the majority of the crowd selected Alex’s part (perhaps because it’s easier, or perhaps because Alex admonished us to “Choose Wisely”). 🙂

While Vienna often introduces songs, last night felt different. She knew she wouldn’t have many more opportunities to connect with the very large crowd so she introduced nearly every song and shared stories with great warmth. (Highline seats roughly 450 people, and there were very few empty seats. It was the first show we’ve been at where people were sitting in the Highline balcony as well!)

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One story that she shared was going to a Karaoke night with a group of non-musician friends. She and her friend sang A Whole New World from Aladdin. She described the inevitable Karaoke Key Nightmare, where the music is simultaneously too high and too low for your vocal range.

Many songs later (I think it was during 1BR / 1BA, but don’t quote me), 2/3’s of the way through the song, she and Alex broke into a full-on rendition of A Whole New World! Their harmony was fantastic and the entire bit was both wonderful and funny at the same time. Of course, after the song, Alex complained that Vienna chose his Karaoke key. Actually, to quote him more accurately, he said she chose his coming into puberty range. 🙂

Alex Wong (the Alex in the above paragraph) joined her as he has for nearly all of the performances we’ve been to. In addition to being Vienna’s touring partner, co-writer on a few of her songs and producer of her amazing CD Inland Territory, Alex is also 1/2 of The Paper Raincoat.

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On the set list, which I reproduce below for Vienna’s many fans, there is an entry labeled (Alex). Vienna lamented that she would really miss seeing The Paper Raincoat and asked Alex to pick one of their songs to play. People shouted out many songs. Probably the one most loudly requested was In the Creases. Technically, not a Paper Raincoat song, but co-written by Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth (who are The Paper Raincoat), so it qualifies.

Alex chose to do Don’t Be Afraid. He too introduced the song with a short, but meaningful anecdote. Vienna sang perfect harmony with Alex.

Toward the end of the show Vienna said that she wanted to deviate from the set list and get Alex to play another song. Once again, lots of requests from the audience. Alex chose a song of his that he performed with his original group, The Animators, Help is on the Way. We’ll all need it for the withdrawal we’ll be feeling from Vienna’s absence. 🙁

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Ward Williams joined them for the entire show (as he does on most of their tours). Ward sang beautifully with Vienna on a few numbers and played cello or electric guitar on all the numbers. As I’ve said before, Ward is a top-notch musician who always enhances any show he’s a part of!

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Update: Lois asked me to say how funny (and quick) Ward is, so here goes. For one song, Vienna asked us to take our keys out. She directed us when to jingle our keys and when to stop (like wind chimes). Alex used his Harry Potter Wand (aka: Waterphone bow) to direct people to make whooshing sounds like the wind itself.

Vienna joked that Ward was left out of the directing. Without missing a beat, he offered that when he put his right arm over his head (in a ballet-like pose), the audience should let out a blood-curdling scream! After testing us once before the song, he sprung the actual arm movement late in the song, and the audience did indeed scream on cue (good paying attention folks!). Vienna definitely got a kick out of it, as did the rest of us. 🙂

I’ve never seen a weak Vienna performance, so raving about last night shouldn’t be taken to imply that other shows weren’t incredible (they all have been!). That said, perhaps it was the poignancy of knowing that it would be a while, making me listen even more acutely, Vienna was in perfect voice last night. The clarity and power were mesmerizing.

As promised, here is the set list:

SetList

As you can see, she ended the set (a long and satisfying one) with Grandmother song. She asked the entire audience to stand for it and we turned the song into a 400+ person party! When they left the stage, we all remained standing until she came back out, this time solo.

Vienna dedicated the song, 1000 Oceans by Tori Amos, to us. We were both choked up. I am still speechless this many hours later, but thankfully, I can still type! 😉

All I can say in return/response is that the amount of joy and personal/spiritual growth that Vienna and the too-many-to-mention other Indie artists that we have come to know and love have given us, fuels us daily! Thank you Vienna, and all of you (you know who you are!).

After 1000 Oceans, both Alex and Ward returned to the stage and they performed two more numbers. The last one was Soon Love Soon, sung by the entire audience in three-part harmony! Here is Vienna directing the right side of the audience:

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Including the encore, they were on stage for 100 minutes. As vivid as the memory is at the moment, I miss it already.

When we bought the tickets (many moons ago, when the show was first announced) there was no opening act listed. What a phenomenal surprise to found out it was another of our favorites.

Joey Ryan performed solo, singing and playing acoustic guitar. In addition to always nailing his sets (with and without accompaniment) he was even funnier (and more self-deprecating) than he usually is (and he’s always funny!). He had everyone in the crowd laughing and chuckling, within seconds of stepping on the stage.

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Personally, I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to come out to an un-warmed-up crowd who is eating, drinking and conversing loudly. To do that solo, acoustically and not be the headliner, even more so.

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Yet, like I noted above, within seconds, Joey had the place whisper quiet, with everyone hanging on his every word. He owned not only the stage, but the entire place. I’m humbled by that ability, and enjoy being a part of it each time I experience it.

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Lois asked me if I’d call out for Broken Headlights. I didn’t need to. Joey invited Vienna and Alex on stage to sing it with him. Gorgeous, both the song (always) and their arrangement and harmonies.

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The Highline Ballroom is a wonderful venue. Doors open two hours before show time and they have excellent food (and drinks). Because of that, we wanted to celebrate with friends and share the great music. We bought seven tickets and squeezed all of us in to a table for six.

We had an excellent meal, including way too many desserts (that Lois forced on us, and of course didn’t partake in). Here is a photo of a very small portion of the desserts we all shared:

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In what had to be the universe speaking to us (though I didn’t find this out until this morning!), I ordered a glass of Shiraz. Then someone else in our party ordered the same thing. The waitress asked if we wanted a bottle instead and I said yes. Then she said that they had a special on a different bottle of Shiraz, one that wasn’t available by the glass. I ordered that. It was really good!

This morning, when I looked at the bill, I saw the name of the wine:

Flying Piano

A totally fitting thing to be drinking during a Vienna Teng show, no doubt! 😉

We all hung around after the show to tell Vienna, Alex, Ward and Joey how amazing they were and what a special night it was. The same group (including Joey) will be performing tonight in Fairfield, CT, tomorrow at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and Saturday in Silver Spring, MD. Do yourself a favor and go to one of these shows, time is running out…

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ambeR Rubarth at Highline Ballroom

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amber Rubarth is an extraordinary singer/songwriter. I’ve written about her many times. Here is the post about her CD Release Party at Joe’s Pub. Last night she headlined the Highline Ballroom and created another exceptional performance (a DVD of the show will be available later this year!).

Highline Ballroom is the biggest stage and room we’ve seen ambeR in to date. She nailed it both with a full band (eight people on stage at one point) and solo, owning the room at both ends of the spectrum.

She opened with the core of the full band, performing Full Moon in Paris from her current CD, Good Mystery. Throughout the set, musicians came and went in a fluid transition to create the right sound for each number.

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The core band consisted of:

Tony Maceli on bass (upright and electric). I’ve written about Tony many times, including the above-referenced show at Joe’s Pub. He’s consistently wonderful on the bass, and was the musical coordinator for the New York Sings for Haiti benefit at City Winery. He’s tireless and a positive addition to anyone he’s performing with.

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Dave Eggar on cello. I’ve written about Dave twice before. He’s beyond awesome. He does things with/on the cello that you don’t typically see others attempt, let alone nail, including playing it across his knee like it was a guitar. He plays effortless leads on the cello that are as mesmerizing as great lead guitar solos.

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All of that would be impressive enough (like I said, we felt that way from the first time we saw him) but last night was even more amazing. He’s never played with ambeR before, and rehearsed with her for the first time just 24 hours before show time. That would be fine if he were playing some light background role. He was not. His parts in each song were the highlights of the instrumental sections, and ambeR had a tough time containing her joy every time he thrilled the crowd!

Sarab Singh (ambeR introduced him as Sar Singh) played the drums. While we were somewhat disappointed that Adam Christgau wasn’t there last night (one of our favorite drummers, and normally drumming for ambeR and The Paper Raincoat), ambeR has excellent tastes in drummers all around. At her CD Release show Billy Hawn played (excellent).

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Sar was fantastic at the Haiti benefit, so I didn’t worry in advance whether he’d be good. Thankfully, he was great, not just good. He has the same sensibilities that Adam has, knowing exactly how to deliver not just the right beat, but the right touch, including all the right sound effects (cow bell, rims of the drums, etc.) at the exact right moment.

I’m pretty sure Adam will be playing with Ian Axel tonight at Joe’s Pub, so we’ll get our fix then, and we can now safely add Sar Singh to our list of drummers who will enhance any performers show!

In addition to the above core, Threeds played on at least three numbers (coincidence? I think not!) 😉 and they were awesome, as always. They are an integral part of the ever-wonderful In the Creases and Edge of My Seat.

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Paul Brill came out to sing with ambeR on three numbers as well (including playing the part of Alex Wong on In The Creases).

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David Fallo joined for one number on viola.

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I mentioned above the fluidity of getting people on and off the stage. With eight people on stage for Edge of My Seat, ambeR transitioned to just two, she and Dave Eggar for Rough Cut. Dave was spectacular on every number, but this one truly highlighted him, as he carried every second that ambeR wasn’t singing (and of course, supported her voice and guitar even when she was singing!).

Dave then quietly stepped off the stage and ambeR debuted a solo number called Lonelier Self (that might just be the short version, or working title). A gorgeous song that had all eyes and ears focused on ambeR. I doubt there was a single person there wondering where the rest of the band was.

After a one hour set, capped off with a Tom Waits cover (sung with Paul Brill), ambeR came out for an encore. She performed Washing Day (a song she co-wrote with Adam Levy). Joining her were Dave Eggar and special guest star Ian Axel (who has his own show tonight at Joe’s Pub).

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We hung around a bit afterward to catch up with some folks, and to buy a couple more of ambeR’s CDs to give as gifts. An absolutely fantastic night out!

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Opening the show was Cara Salimando accompanied by Julia Sinclair. Cara is a 17-year-old singer/songwriter. She played electric piano on all but one number, where she finger-picked the ukulele quite beautifully. She has an excellent voice, but still has some work to do to smoothly hit some of the higher notes. She’s young, it will come in time, I’m sure.

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Julia Sinclair accompanied her on every song, playing half on the cello and half on the guitar. She also sang harmony a bit, not enough if you ask me. She plays the cello very well (though there was a slight buzz on the bass notes). I was more impressed with her guitar play. She’s an excellent complement to Cara. The set was exactly 30 minutes.

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After resetting the stage, Kaiser Cartel came out. Kaiser Cartel is a duo comprising Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel (however did they come up with the name of the band?). They’re a reasonably straightforward rock ‘n roll band, putting out a pretty big sound for just two people (though they were joined for two or three numbers by someone who’s name I thought was Jeff Kraft, but now I’m sure that’s wrong).

Here’s a picture of the guy whose name I’m not remembering, sorry!:

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Courtney has an exceptional voice. She mostly played the acoustic guitar, but it was also connected to a muff pedal so she created some classical electric guitar sounds. She also played what seemed like a one-handed accordion. She played with her right hand and used the left to pull the bellows part in and out. She also played a glockenspiel, but with an electric device (looked like a cross between a grouting tool and an electric toothbrush!) so she got a fast ringing sound (like a telephone!) every time she struck a key!

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Benjamin has a nice voice and harmonized well with Courtney. He played drums and acoustic guitar. One some songs he only played the drums. On the others he played the guitar, but continued to play the drum line with his foot. It contributed to their big sound for just two people.

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Nina Lee on cello joined them for two numbers. She’s excellent!

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For their last number they did something very cool. Courtney asked the crowd to be as quiet as they could. They then came off the stage and walked throughout the entire audience (covering a very large room) and sang a song (Benjamin played the guitar, unplugged of course) stopping at practically every table and singing a line within a few inches of the people sitting there. It was pretty powerful to be so up close and personal.

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They were on for roughly 45 minutes before ambeR came out. If you want to help them fund their new CD, the info is below (click any picture in this post to enlarge it):

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When we were heading down in the cab I tweeted a friend asking if she’d be there. She showed up a little later with her friend and they were able to join us at our table right up at the stage so we had some good times and good food before the show started. They bought CDs from ambeR too and the four of us shared a cab home after the show.

Closing with a pet peeve. I’ve written too many times (here we go again) about how rude some people can be when they speak loudly during a performance. That happened a bit last night too (not too bad for such a large room). But, what shocked me was that the worst offender last night was a performer. We’ve seen this person on stage once before (no names) so it was doubly shocking that they would ever treat someone in a manner that I can only imagine would annoy them if it happened during their show. Oh well…

Jerry Douglas and John Oates at Highline Ballroom

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Jerry Douglas has a new Christmas CD out, Jerry Christmas. He’s touring actively in support of that CD. Special guest stars on this tour are John Oates (of Hall and Oates fame) and Maura O’Connell. Both John and Maura are up for a Grammy this year. Jerry has 12 Grammys already!

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We expected the majority of the show to be Christmas songs. They started off the show with the first two cuts from the Christmas CD, The First Noel and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I was completely entranced.

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The mood was quickly broken. Jerry introduced Maura O’Connell (an obvious crowd favorite). She sang two numbers that were lovely, but didn’t feel Christmasy to me. Maura has a saucy stage presence. While we both typically like artists who can connect directly with the audience, it broke the reverent mood created by the first two instrumental numbers.

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After the fourth song, Jerry introduced John Oates. His first number was Christmas Song (written by Mel Torme). John still has an excellent voice, and he surprised me throughout the show with his quality guitar playing. He is an incredibly self-effacing man, who fit right in with the amazing spirit always put out by the Jerry Douglas Band.

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Sprinkled throughout the set, John played a number of other songs, including She’s Gone (one of the many Hall and Oates hits). He also sang with Maura (and she harmonized on a few of his numbers). Still, most of his songs were not Christmas ones. While they were really good, they too didn’t strike us as fitting the overall flow and mood of the evening.

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When neither John nor Maura was singing, the Jerry Douglas Band played eight of the 12 songs from the new CD. Every one was special, as is the CD (which we own).

The first of a two-song encore was a Gaelic a capella number sung by Maura and Jerry. Gorgeous (he really has a very good voice). Jerry also sang harmony with Maura and John on a few numbers, all well done.

JerryDouglasGaelicACapella

Jerry also threw in Who’s Your Uncle, a high-energy Jerry Douglas tune that would typically highlight a normal Jerry Douglas Band show. They played Sir Aly B to close the encore. Both Who’s Your Uncle and Sir Aly B are on The Best Kept Secret CD.

Guthrie Trapp blew me away again on the guitar. The man is just incredible. His mandolin playing isn’t half bad either. Lois got him to sign a set list for us (really me) after the show. I was speechless, so she had to do the asking. 😉

GuthrieTrappChadMeltonGuthrieTrapp1GuthrieTrapp2

Chad Melton played the drums (like he did when we saw them at the Blue Note). Again, he was excellent. Very understated, but right there with the right beat and sound the entire set.

ChadMelton2 ChadMelton1

Todd Parks was again wonderful on the bass all night, both upright and electric.

ToddParks1ToddParks2ToddParks3

Normally, Luke Bulla fulfills the fiddle playing for the Jerry Douglas Band. He wasn’t there last night (even though he’s on the Jerry Christmas CD), and there was no mention of why he wasn’t there. As good as he is, he wasn’t missed.

Taking his place were two fiddle players. It didn’t take two to fill his shoes, as both are great in their own right. But, especially with the Christmas music, having two fiddle players (perhaps I should say violin this one time), made it sound more like an orchestra playing with Jerry!

I am most embarrassed to say that I can’t remember the name of one of the fiddle players, even though Jerry said his name (once) last night. To make matters worse, I’ve seen him play before (with another band), and can’t for the life of me remember which one. Of course, no end of searching yielded the answer either… 🙁

He was excellent all night, in particular when he played duets with the other fiddle player, and he played mandolin on a few numbers as well. Here’s his photo, perhaps a kind reader can fill in the details for me:

UnknownFiddler2 UnknownFiddler1

Alex Hargreaves played the fiddle and sang on one number. He looks like he’s 12. 😉 He’s an absolutely extraordinary musician and has played with some of the greatest musicians in the country, now including Jerry Douglas.

AlexHargreaves1AlexHargreaves2AlexHargreaves3

We had a great time, and loved the show. That said, we each would have enjoyed a more typical Jerry Douglas show, or a Christmas-only show. Mixing and matching worked only in the sense that each song is played by consummate musicians who will make anything sound good, but the flow/magic was missing at times.

ambeR Rubarth at Joe’s Pub

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I am being respectful, and writing ambeR Rubarth the way she capitalizes it herself, so no, I didn’t make a mistake. 🙂 She is soon to release a new CD, Good Mystery, and last night had a CD Release party show at Joe’s Pub in NYC, which we attended. You can hear some of the songs from that CD and a few from her previous work at her MySpace page.

In addition to her solo career, ambeR is also part of a duo called The Paper Raincoat. I wrote about them extensively when we accidentally discovered them opening for Colin Hay at the Canal Room. We were extremely impressed with both ambeR and Alex Wong (the other half of The Paper Raincoat).

Right after that show, I friended both of them on MySpace, as well as The Paper Raincoat. I’ve since followed both ambeR and The Paper Raincoat on Twitter: @ambeRRubarth and @Paper_Raincoat respectively. As a result, I saw a Tweet that ambeR was releasing a new solo CD. I was aware that The Paper Raincoat is also releasing a much anticipated CD, and now I know that their release party will be at Joe’s Pub, on October 6th at 9:30pm, and we bought tickets to that last night!

We pre-ordered the new CD (in a Collector’s Edition!) immediately, and bought tickets to the show. We knew there would be surprise guests, but we didn’t realize just how many.

OK, the intro has already been too long. So,  I have to skip to the bottom line first, before I lose all of you, and then I’ll add a lot more detail.

Last night’s show was one of the best concerts we’ve ever attended!

Read that again, especially if you know us. We attend a ton of live shows, so it’s not like we just went gaga because we finally saw someone perform in person!

To make the above statement even more amazing (to me), ambeR (and friends) were on stage for just about an hour (not a very long show by any measure), and yet, it was completely satisfying, in every regard. Of course, I would have loved another hour or two (or three, or four), but I didn’t feel let down in any way whatsoever.

On to the specifics of the show. For the most part, ambeR had three people supporting her throughout most of the show. Tony Maceli on bass, Austin Nevins on electric guitar and Billy Hawn on drums. I’ll cover them all after I gush some more about ambeR.

First and foremost, ambeR Rubarth is a superb songwriter. On any level that you want to take that statement. Her lyrics are moving, clever, authentic, wonderful. Her melodies are varied, interesting, lovely, terrific.

Her guitar playing is excellent (she could do a solo show, accompanying herself on the guitar, and we would be completely satisfied). She is an incredible pianist (again, she could perform a solo show, accompanying herself just on the piano, and we would be completely satisfied).

ambeR Rubarth Guitar

ambeR Rubarth Guitar

ambeR Rubarth Piano

ambeR Rubarth Piano

And yet, with many people on the stage at the same time, the arrangements were fantastic, complex, harmonious, subtle, effective, etc. ambeR arranged the entire show, except for the part that Threeds participated in, which they arranged. Add producing/arranging to the long list of strengths/talents that she possesses.

Finally, her voice. It’s lovely, with good range, and excellent delivery of the appropriate emotion at the appropriate time. She can be wistful, soulful, smokey, vulnerable, flirty, bluesy, jazzy, rock ‘n rolly and certainly, fully folksy. And, given her songwriting talents, she most certainly exercised all of the above during her set.

Tony Maceli was spectacular on the upright bass, playing a number of styles, including using a bow, and even slapping with the bow to achieve a sound I wasn’t used to hearing with a bass. He also played the electric bass on at least one number. He’s a star!

Austin Nevins was solid all night. I suspect he’s better than I realize, as he played more of a supporting role. He was very good, a perfect fit of what was expected of him last night, just not flashy enough for me to really get a sense of how good he is when he lets loose.

Billy Hawn was wonderful on the drums (including Djembe). He was tucked in the far right corner, diagonally opposite us, so I couldn’t see him except for a glimpse now and again, but his beat was excellent, and he never overwhelmed the mostly mellow sound throughout the show.

It doesn’t end there. ambeR promised a bunch of surprise guests and she delivered. I already mentioned Alex Wong, who joined on the first song, and then on a few more toward the end, including the encore.

Amber Rubarth and Alex Wong

Amber Rubarth and Alex Wong

Opening the show was a trio called Threeds. I’ll come back to them later. For now, I want to mention that all three of them came back on stage to play with ambeR during her second number, and they were great (as was the song, and the arrangement that included Threeds!). For two other numbers, Katie Scheele of Threeds joined alone. They/she added a wonderful dimension to ambeR’s set.

Paul Brill joined to sing harmony on one number. Very nice.

Austin Nevins - Amber Rubarth - Paul Brill - Tony Maceli

Austin Nevins - Amber Rubarth - Paul Brill - Tony Maceli

Vienna Teng joined for a stunningly beautiful version of In the Creases. Alex Wong, who co-wrote the song with ambeR before they formed The Paper Raincoat, joined as well. The three took turns singing lead (Alex kicked it off), and all three harmonized together. Vienna played the piano (her specialty).

Vienna Teng

Vienna Teng

Ironically, the night before, Vienna Teng was the headliner at the Highline Ballroom. We’ve never seen her live. I discovered her through The Paper Raincoat, and really wanted to see her perform. I tried to rearrange our schedule to make it there on Thursday, but couldn’t pull off the minor miracle. I was so happy to get to see and hear her (however briefly) last night, as I now know I need to go out of my way to ensure I see one of her full shows!

Rosi Golan joined to sing with ambeR on two numbers (including the encore). I admit that I simply couldn’t hear her differentiated from the rest of the sounds (she only sang harmony, never lead), so I don’t have an opinion. Sorry!

Adam Levy (pronounced Levee) closed the show with ambeR, just the two of them, performing a song they co-wrote. Lovely. Adam is a good guitarist, and has a very good voice as well. He also returned to sing during the encore.

Amber Rubarth and Adam Levy

Amber Rubarth and Adam Levy

Chel O’Reilly joined for the encore, to sing along with the all-star cast. I couldn’t make out her voice individually either, so nothing really to report. Sorry.

Austin Nevins - Chel O'Reilly - Adam levy - Rosi Golan - Tony Maceli - Alex Wong

Austin Nevins - Chel O'Reilly - Adam levy - Rosi Golan - Tony Maceli - Alex Wong

Simply a stunning show, all around. Kudos to everyone involved, in particular, the extremely talented ambeR Rubarth!

Threeds opened the show, and played a varied 20-minute set. Threeds is three oboists, Kathy Halvorson, Mark Snyder and Katie Scheele. In addition to the oboe, Katie also played the English Horn. I was impressed by the breadth of styles they covered in such a short set, all extremely well done. They are very tight together, and their music delighted the crowd.

Threeds

Threeds

It was an incredible treat to have them come back on stage with ambeR and have them add such richness to the otherwise rich sound that ambeR and her crew and guests produced!

Thank you all for an evening we will never forget!

In addition to the performers all putting on such a great show, last night was one of the best audiences we’ve been part of. Bravo to all of you as well! 🙂

Wes and Hadar’s Excellent Adventure

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Many more people participated in one or more of the activities I’m about to list. Only Wes and I enjoyed every single one of them, hence the accurate title. 🙂

Wes flew up on Thursday morning and I picked him up at Newark Airport. We headed straight to the city and met Lois and two friends for lunch at Westville. We met there at 11:30am because the place is tiny and fills up fast. Only one of the five of us had ever eaten there, so it was a new experience for the three four of us. The food was fantastic! I had the Caesar Salad with grilled chicken. Here are pics of three of the dishes, starting with mine:

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Hot Dogs

Hot Dogs

After lunch, Lois, Wes and I relaxed and caught up with work/email, etc. Then we headed for our night at the Highline Ballroom to see our favorite group, Girlyman. That evening was covered extensively in this post.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed up to the house. Wes had never seen it. We logged on there and all did our own thing until lunch. After lunch, Wes and I headed to see the new Star Trek movie. Lois was intending to come as well, but we had a problem with the dampers again, and she called the HVAC people and waited for an emergency technician to arrive. Sorry Lois!

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes and I both enjoyed the movie. I would be lying if I said it was great in any way (other than the special effects, which were stunning), but it’s action-packed, moves at a very quick pace, is an inventive story, etc. I agree with the comments I had heard about the movie before I saw it, that you don’t need to be a trekkie to appreciate the movie, but that it pays homage to the original in so many ways that it’s extra satisfying to a real trekkie. Kudos to JJ Abrams and the entire creative staff of the movie for pulling off that difficult balancing act!

When we got home, we both logged on again, and  I finally got the blog post about Girlyman published. We then headed for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Tarrytown (that we had never eaten at before). It wasn’t our original destination for dinner, but the two places we wanted to eat at were 30+ minute waits (you know, in this economy, where supposedly no one can afford to eat out any longer…). We were quite disappointed in our meals, so this place won’t be visited again by us. Oh well…

After dinner, we walked 200 feet to our real destination for the evening, Tarrytown Music Hall. We had 10th row seats to see Steven Wright, one of my all-time favorite standup comics. This was my first time seeing him live, but I’ve been a fan ever since he burst on the scene (probably longer ago than many of you are alive). 😉

Steven Wright

Steven Wright

As is typical of most shows at Tarrytown Music Hall, he didn’t come on the stage until 8:25pm (scheduled time, 8pm). It’s annoying, but otherwise, we really love Tarrytown Music Hall. He was fantastic. He did his routine non-stop for 85 minutes.

For those of you don’t know, he’s the king of dead-pan one liners. For the most part, they are based on word play. He never (OK, rarely) smiles, except for specific effect. In other words, his own jokes don’t appear to make him laugh (and that works really well for his type of material). He only told one vulgar joke, and I’d bet that none of the kids that were in the audience had a clue that it was vulgar!

He used the F-word perhaps 10 times, so in general, his act is pretty clean. He speaks softly, so the audience trained themselves (incredibly quickly) to come to a dead silence seconds after laughing hysterically, for fear of missing the next joke!

Here are but two (of hundreds of) examples of the style of humor that no one masters quite like Steven Wright:

I have a friend who has a stained glass eye.

24-Hour Banking. I don’t have that kind of time.

No two jokes are connected. Topics fly all over the place. It’s really funny to hear delayed laughter around you, when you realize that people are trying hard to process a joke, and finally get it, a few seconds too late. 😉

We had a great time there. Afterward, we drove back to the city and watched a bit of Conan O’Brien in his new gig as host of the Tonight Show. I also watched the first two nights on Hulu, and I think Conan is doing a marvelous job in his new time slot. Congrats Conan!

On Saturday, after breakfast and the obligatory emailing, Wes and I met Laura in the lobby and went on one of my patented long walks up the East River. It was the nicest day of 2009 in NYC (so far), and our walk was spectacular in every regard. It took us two hours and 10 minutes, and we loved every second of it (or at least I did!).

After a shower, Wes, Laura, Lois and I grabbed a cab and headed to Five Napkin Burger for lunch. None of us had ever been there before. So, what made me pick it for lunch? I subscribe to Fred Wilson’s blog (one of the top VC’s in NYC) and read every one of his posts religiously. He often writes about his wife, who blogs under the moniker The Gotham Gal. For whatever reason, I had never clicked through to her site.

The other day, Fred blogged that The Gothan Gal had updated the design of her site, and he was very pleased with the result. That’s the first time I clicked through. I liked her writing style and started reading a bunch of her posts. Then I came to this one about Five Napkin Burger! I decided to give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, as all four of us really enjoyed our burgers (all different kinds). Mine was an Italian Turkey Burger. Yum!

From there, the four of us walked back to Times Square, and went to see Angels and Demons. Thoroughly enjoyable. Substantially better movie than The DaVinci Code. We walked back to the apartment after that.

While I caught up on some email, Laura and Wes walked the few blocks to Red Mango and picked up frozen yogurt for a light dinner for the four of us. It was my first taste of it, and I liked it a lot. Chris (Laura’s husband), who was at the dentist while we were lunching and enjoying Angels and Demons, joined us for dinner, which he picked up for himself from the brand new Just Salad a block away from the apartment.

After dinner, the five of us grabbed two cabs and went to see the show Altar Boys at New World Stages. New World Stages is a fantastic space/building, a block off Broadway, that houses seven smaller theaters (Altar Boyz can seat 363 people). All of the shows are quirky (or at least have very quirky and provocative titles and posters). Wes picked this one.

Altar Boyz

Altar Boyz

Wes, Lois and I really loved the show. I caught Laura and Chris chuckling a few times, but I suspect (strongly) that they didn’t like it as much as the rest of us did. It’s very borderline whether any audience member will consider the show one of the following:

  1. Irreverent, but still uplifting and respectful of Christianity
  2. Blasphemous
  3. Some mixture of the two

Personally, I choose #1, with no hesitation, though I have no trouble accepting and understanding that many people could legitimately believe #2 is more accurate. Without a doubt, it’s blasphemous in it’s caricature of Boy Bands. But, in getting you to laugh at that, I believe it still very effectively gets across a message of the best of Christianity’s teachings. It turns out that Laura and her family made the show a birthday present for Lois, and Lois loved and appreciated every second of it!

Thanks M&M’s. 😉

We walked home from the show. When we reached the apartment building, I made the scandalous suggestion that Wes and I go across the street to my favorite Mexican restaurant, El Rio Grande, for a nightcap. Laura and Chris decided to join us as well. Technically, the outside was closed already, but we’re regulars there, and they were kind enough to sneak us in. The inside was still officially open, but it was the most beautiful night, so we were glad to sit outside.

Three of us enjoyed frozen margaritas, and the fourth wisely picked a Banana Pinata for dessert, that the rest of us got to taste (and swoon over!). We then sat on our deck for another 40 minutes, soaking in the remainder of a perfect day.

This morning, we dropped Wes off at Newark Airport and headed down for our usual road trip down I95. Memories of a perfect weekend (uh, I mean, excellent adventure) still linger!

Wes, thanks so much for making the trek up from NC to spend such quality time with us! 🙂

Girlyman at Highline Ballroom

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For those keeping score, and I know that there are scores of you doing so, 😉 last night was the 11th time we’ve seen Girlyman perform live (the second time at the Highline Ballroom).

In addition to owning their four CDs, we also purchase the recordings of each show we see live (and yes, I listen to them all!). If you don’t know Girlyman, you might think that after all of the listening on my iPod, and seeing them live, that we’re merely groupies (stalkers?), because what could be new and fresh for us in a Girlyman show?

Well, you’d be wrong, but if you’ve ready any of my previous (lengthy) posts about Girlyman, you would have chosen your response more wisely. 😉

First, there were the usual surprises. By that I mean that Girlyman introduced three new songs last night (at least, perhaps it was four, but I’m pretty sure it was three). One, a new song by Ty, was sung solo by her, with Doris and Nate leaving the stage completely. That’s a first for any of the shows we’ve seen.

Ty

Ty

Most of the shows we’ve seen in the past year have had at least one song we’ve never heard before. That alone makes it worth it for us to show up, and order our live CD, so that we can capture that song before the new CD hits the stands (more on that in a minute). Of course, some of those new songs may not even make the new CD, so we still want the live version.

In addition, Girlyman has a pretty big catalog by now, so each show has some mystery to it in terms of what they’re in the mood to play, or what people will call for in the request section. Lately (as I’ve written from the past few shows), they’ve surprised with some oldies but goodies. Last night they picked another one that we’ve never heard them play live: Even If.

The Highline Ballroom is a gorgeous, large club. It can seat 400. The sound system is excellent, and a majority of the seats (dinner table style seating) have good views of the stage. The shows at Joe’s Pub are more intimate, but the vibe of a larger audience at Highline, coupled with the excellent sound system, makes this a wonderful venue for Girlyman.

Girlyman really had their vocals humming last night. All three were in good voice, and as the songs built momentum (a trademark of many Girlyman numbers), their power really came through, and their voices remained crystal clear even at full volume.

Doris

Doris

Nate

Nate

On stage, they announced that they just finished recording their new CD. They also just finished mixing it. Their relief was palpable. My guess is that we’ll all have our sweaty little hands on the CD in late July, or early August, but what do I know…

In what I ascribe as at least partially caused by that milestone, there were some more muffs last night than usual in a Girlyman show. In what is completely typical of all Girlyman shows, those muffs (e.g., starting a song while a guitar was still out of tune) were handled with humor and class. In all cases, they restarted the song, and (of course) nailed it the second time. That too is one of the joys of live music, being part of the experience.

Newcomers most likely thought they were funny throughout, and they were, but the humor was a little choppier than usual, not as crisp and incisive. Still, I laughed a bunch, and since the music is the top billing, any laughs are a wonderful bonus.

Another result of the exhaling process is that they were willing to entertain more requests than they typically do (though they were very generous at the Barns at Wolf Trap as well). In addition to satisfying many people in the audience, it also caused the show to be a little longer than usual, which was very welcome (yes, I could listen to them all night!). The encore ended up being two more requests, making it something like five songs requested by the audience during this show.

Girlyman

Girlyman

In total, they were on stage for roughly 105 minutes of wonderful music and good (but not their best) banter.

Opening for them was Katie Sawicki, accompanied by Adam Sweeney. This was the fourth time that Adam has accompanied Katie, and both Lois and Wes commented to me afterward that Katie should continue touring with him.

Katie Sawicki

Katie Sawicki

Adam Sweeney

Adam Sweeney

For the most part, we’ve been very impressed with the groups that open for Girlyman (that is, when it’s their choice as to who opens). The one serious exception (and it may not have been their choice) was the only other time we’ve been to the Highline Ballroom, when the opening act was too much of a mismatch (style-wise) to Girlyman.

Katie Sawicki was an exceptionally good match to Girlyman. She finger-picks the guitar beautifully, both electric and acoustic. Adam plays banjo, guitar and accordion, and sings harmony very nicely with Katie. She did one song solo.

Katie has a lovely voice, thoughtful lyrics, and a very gentle style on stage. If I had a single complaint, it might be that she could have sung a tad louder, or they could have cranked the sound board just a tad. If she had to err, she erred on the correct side, as too loud would not have been welcome.

The only freaky thing to me was that Katie is the doppelganger of a very good friend of ours (who happens to live in Atlanta, where Girlyman reside) even down to the facial expressions. So, I kept thinking that our very dear friend was on stage singing to us. I got over it, and enjoyed her music, but it still was a very strange sensation.

Katie played for about 45 minutes, and a number of people told me after the show that they were extremely surprised and pleased with how much they enjoyed her performance. I guess most people have very low expectations from an opening act…

There’s always a back story to any of our nights out, and usually a Girlyman back story is longer. Last night was no exception. We’ve seen them in NY a few more times than in VA (seven in NY, four in VA), but we tend to bring a larger crowd with us in VA, partially because of the venues, and partially because scheduling a bunch of NY friends on the same night is often an insurmountable challenge.

If you’ve been reading this space for two years, then you know that ever since I accidentally discovered Girlyman in August 2007, I’ve been on a mission to introduce them to as many people as I can. One of the most effective ways of doing that is by bringing people to see them live. Most enjoy the music and become fans. A few have become fanatics for the band (very gratifying). It’s the rarest person that doesn’t really care for their music after the show, but that’s happened too, and I survived. Whew.

Given that last night was in a large venue with excellent table seating, and that we knew about it well in advance, we decided to try and break the record of the number of people we had brought to a Girlyman show in the past. Our record was 15 people at the Birchmere, this past October.

Two months before the show, I sent out a large blind distribution inviting people to be our guests for the show. Sparing you the many twists and turns along the way, we ended up purchasing 20 tickets, and due to some last-minute personal issues, ended up bringing 19 (including us) to the show. Most of the tables at the Highline Ballroom seat six people, so we took three of them and squeezed a seventh at the head of one of the tables, right up against the stage.

We had lots of food, drink and merriment for the two hours leading up to Katie, and it was a blast catching up with some people that we don’t get to see as often as we’d like. I think I can honestly say that everyone in our party had a delightful evening, in terms of company, food, drink, and of course, the show itself!

We broke our record (and have set a new bar, which we hope to leap over on October 11th, back at the Birchmere again) and created at least a handful of new fans (hopefully more).

A fabulous evening all around. Thanks to everyone who attended, and to Girlyman for putting on such a great show! 🙂

I have to conclude with an incredible small world story. One of the couples that attended last night was married last year on 08/08/08 (I blogged about that wedding too). Another couple that attended last night is getting married this year, on 10/10. They had never met before last night.

In introducing themselves, and getting to know each other a bit, they discovered that the pastor that married the 08/08/08 couple will be marrying the 10/10/09 couple as well. That this tidbit is true is strange and cool enough. That they would separately be invited by us, chat to each other, and figure that out so quickly is a little other-worldly to me. 🙂

Girlyman at Barns at Wolf Trap

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Another night, another fabulous Girlyman concert. Same old, same old, blah blah blah. Right? Wrong! 🙂

So, I just covered their April Fool’s NYC show at Joe’s Pub extensively in this post the other day. I’ll try not to be too repetitious, but I will highlight some of the similarities.

I mentioned in that post that Girlyman mixes it up, even on the same tour (in this case, in the same week). That was the case last night too. For the past year, Joyful Sign has been featured in every show, either as an opening number (at Joe’s) or a closing number (at Gravity Lounge, Birchmere, etc.). They didn’t play it last night. Not complaining, just reporting. 🙂

They opened the show with my favorite song, Hold It All At Bay. Since I closed my last post about them mentioning that, I’ll fantasize for a second and say that they did that to specifically make me happy. 😉

Girlyman

Girlyman

Next they played one of our favorites (a very silly thing to say, because 95% of their songs are amongst our favorites), On The Air, which they hadn’t played at Joe’s, but opened most of their 2008 shows with. During the set they also played their new cover of Mary by Patty Griffin, and their new song Wherever You Keep, both of which are so wonderful that it was great to hear them again and start to cement them in our minds.

They did not play Doris’ new song, Nothing Called Home, so we’ll have to wait for our CD of the live recording at Joe’s to hear it again.

So, why did I say that this night was not the same old, same old? (Aside from the obvious fact that all of their shows have a freshness to them!) Last year, at the Barns, they played their cover of Rock Me Amadeus (the previous link is not their version) by Falco. I have been dying to hear it again ever since. I’ve called it out a couple of times during the request section of their shows, to no avail.

Last night, they did the same bit that they did at the Barns last year (which was the only time I’ve seen them do it before). They had the audience vote on which of three whimsical songs they should do, based just on keywords. Of course, their fans know which songs are associated with which keyword, but any newbies wouldn’t know

The keywords were:

  • Backwards
  • German
  • Moose

They voted on them in the order: Backwards, Moose, German. Lois clapped her little heart out for Backwards. It moved the needle, but it was clear that the majority of the audience was holding their vote for one of the next two.

Next up was Moose, which got a ton of applause (Nate also noted some serious whistles as well). I was sure it was going to end up being Moose. Then we voted on German, which is what I wanted, badly. Thankfully, enough other fans wanted it too, as it ended up surpassing Moose. Whew!

Why was it so important to me to hear them do it again? Aside from the instantaneous enjoyment of the song (which they delivered on), I knew that I’d be buying a CD of the performance, so I would finally have a copy I could listen to forever, whenever I am in the mood. Sweet!

Of course, the audience sang the chorus out loud with them, so I’ll be able to enjoy remembering singing my little heart out as well. 🙂

They played a number of songs from Little Star (five in total!) only two of which they played at Joe’s on Wednesday night. They also played Good Enough, something I haven’t heard them play often live, so that was a real treat too.

For the request, so many titles were yelled out it was overwhelming. Nate joked that people had just yelled out their entire repertoire (which wasn’t so far from the truth!). Of course, with 400 people in the audience, even though all of them were Girlyfans, clearly, there would be a wide range of favorites.

After much discussion between the three of them on stage, they settled on Maori. I mentioned in the last post that Maori is stunning, and difficult to nail live. They clearly didn’t intend to do it at the Barns, but with enough people yelling for it (perhaps because they all read my last post!) 😉 they decided to do it again. Gorgeous!

They closed the show with This Is Me (one of the five Little Star songs). They returned to the stage quickly to a standing ovation. They played two more songs. In total, they were on the stage for 100 minutes. Let me correct myself, 100 blissful minutes!

After the show, we ordered our live CD (as we always do). Then we waited patiently to say our hellos, goodbyes and see you next times.

That’s it for the concert, but (unfortunately for those of you who can’t look away from an accident) nowhere near the end of the post itself. 😉

We bought tickets for last night’s show the minute we became aware of it, last October. We saw them at the same venue, the Barns at Wolf Trap last year, and loved the place (there should be no doubt about our loving Girlyman, right?). Even though the show was seven months away, in purchasing six tickets (at the time) together, the best we could do was the fourth row. Later on, we bought three more tickets, and those were relegated back in the 13th row…

Every seat at the Barns gets great sound, but aside from Lois’ poor vision, even well-sighted people lose a lot of the feel of a live performance when they sit further back, given that the faces of the performers are just a blur. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about Colin Hay, when the performers are funny (in addition to their obvious musical talent), you miss out on some of the raised eyebrows, smirks (at exactly the right second), etc.

Nate was so on last night (is he ever not?), that it was particularly cool to be close enough to him to catch every nuance of his between-song antics.

The fourth row was just fine for that, but our friends who ended up in the 13th row really loved the show, but admitted to seeing more of a blur on the stage than what we saw. Oh well, Girlyman fills the Barns (400 seats!), so you have to pounce early to get seats up front. I ended up in the middle seat in our row, dead center stage, which was perfect!

If you read the last post, then you know that Elizabeth left me a comment that she’d be at the show too. She’s a major Girlyfan as well. She ended up sitting right behind us, and was finally able to bring her daughter to a show (she was too young to attend the last two times, when Elizabeth brought her son). Both her kids are big-time Girlyfans.

Elizabeth also stepped up her support for the band by volunteering at the Merch table. Kudos Elizabeth! We all need to find ways to help and support the people we love and who give us so much joy. Writing these blog posts about Girlyman is one of the ways we try to help, as is introducing them to as many people as we can convince to join us at their shows!

I know that Elizabeth reads my missives about Girlyman and pays attention. At least I know it now, after last night. I usually mention that we really do everything we can (including leaping onto the stage after the show) to snag a set list, whenever we can. That didn’t happen last night, because we were four rows back, and had a lot of people with us.

After we said our goodbyes to Girlyman, Lois told me that she had something in the car that she really wanted me to give to Girlyman. It was a one sheet printout of the last few paragraphs of my last blog about them, including the photo of the youngest Girlyfan. I went to the car and came back in to hand it to them and got back on line. Elizabeth spotted me with a piece of paper, waiting on line (looking like I wanted it signed by the band), and she said to me “Is that tonight’s Set List?”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t, but I applaud Elizabeth’s fortitude in making it through all my wordiness. 😉

On to what we did before the show. Nine of us had dinner at Hunan Lion. We accidentally discovered this wonderful restaurant last year, when we dined there before the Girlyman show. We were seated at a round table, so we were all able to enjoy each other’s company thoroughly. The food was great, again.

Here is a shot of our seven guests with Lois. Ironically, I am not the one taking the picture, as I was off getting the car. A patron who was about to enter the restaurant saw Lois snapping photos of our guests, and offered to take one with her in it. Thanks! 🙂

Guests at Hunan Lion

Guests at Hunan Lion

Recall that we purchased the tickets seven months ago. We didn’t look at them carefully, and we made a pretty big mistake. We were caught in bad traffic on I95 on our way to the restaurant, and we got there later than we had planned. Still, we thought we had plenty of time, because we thought the opening act came on the stage at 8pm.

After dinner, we headed over to the Barns (first incorrectly going to the main Wolf Trap, about 1/3 of a mile down the road). We walked in at 7:58pm, which was cutting it too close, but since we had assigned seats, we thought we were fine.

Unfortunately, the show started at 7:30pm, and the opening act, Adrianne, was about to start her last number. I felt badly that I messed up the schedule, but was grateful that we didn’t miss any Girlyman! Thankfully, they pumped Adrianne’s number in the cafe where we waited, and the sound system was excellent, so we got a taste of what a talent she is. A very beautiful voice!

Lois took a shot of our guests, with me in it this time, waiting in the cafe while Adrianne sang her last song:

Guests at Barns

Guests at Barns

A few minutes later, her set was over, and there was a 20 minute intermission, so we were able to get to our seats and settle in. You already know about the show, so I’ll leave you with one more baby Girlyfan story.

One of our guests was 6.5 months pregnant. After the opening number, Hold It All At Bay, she turned to us and said that the baby was kicking beyond belief. Before you freak out, that’s typically a very good thing, and the mother definitely took it that way! Amazingly, it was the same song that calmed down the 5-week-old that I reported about in the last post. Of course, I have similar tastes to newborns (or even nearly borns!). 😉

After the show, the mom-to-be reported that the baby continued to happily kick along throughout the show. She was very pleased.

If you made it all the way to this point, there just might be a pleasant surprise reward for you (depending on who you are). 😉

The next time we’ll be seeing Girlyman live (at least the next time we’re sure about) will be June 4th, 2009, at the Highline Ballroom in NYC. Since that is a much larger venue than Joe’s Pub, we’ve decided to invite a lot more people than we usually do.

On Friday, I sent a large blind distribution out to a bunch of our Tri-State area friends, inviting them to be our guests at the show. If you are a friend, and didn’t get an invitation from me (then apologies for accidentally leaving your name off the list!), and would like to attend, please let me know.

If you don’t live in the area, then you didn’t get an invitation, but if you will be around on June 4th, or are willing to commit to making the trip, then also let me know.

Hope to see everyone at the Highline Ballroom on June 4th. Let’s sell the place out! 🙂

Girlyman at Highline Ballroom

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Last night finally came, our long-awaited second live concert seeing Girlyman. They performed at the Highline Ballroom. We had never been there before, and only found about it from the Girlyman mailing list. It’s owned by the same people that own the Blue Note and BB King, both places that we love to see shows at, so we were certainly looking forward to the venue, aside from the obvious anticipation of seeing Girlyman again.

We went with a family of three, so there were five of us in total. We got there seven minutes before the doors were scheduled to open, and there were roughly 10 people on line ahead of us, so we knew we’d have our pick of tables to sit at (all three clubs are first come, first served).

As often is the case at BB King, the doors don’t typically open on time (at 6pm), and that’s really annoying to us. In this case, the doors opened at about 6:10pm, not too terrible. Inside, the club is really beautiful, perhaps the nicest of the three clubs. There is a spaciousness to the downstairs, with wider aisles and very nice tables. There is a cool-looking upstairs, but (unfortunately) Girlyman didn’t fill the place, so they didn’t seat anyone upstairs last night.

We grabbed a very nice table for six (there are at least 12 tables for six right in front the stage), and because they didn’t sell out, no one sat in our sixth seat, which worked out very nicely for us.

When we ordered drinks, I thought I was going to experience a mini-disaster, as the waitress told me that they didn’t have any “chocolate martinis”. Since both of the other clubs owned by the same people do (in fact, I discovered the “Nutty Angel”, my first ever chocolate martini at the Blue Note!), this was very surprising. She said she’d check with the bartender, and indeed came back and said, “Sorry, no chocolate martinis”. Ugh.

So, I ordered a regular martini (how droll), but asked for Belvedere Vodka (my favorite), which she also said she didn’t think they had. Another big ugh. A few minutes later, I notice the bartender walking across the room (nowhere near us), with what looked suspiciously like a chocolate martini. Apparently she was walking to find my waitress, with a chocolate martini, who was beaming when she was able to deliver it to me. Whew, evening saved! 😉

A little while later, we ordered dinner. The menu is a little more limited than either Blue Note or BB King (or Joe’s Pub for that matter), and more high-end in terms of prices. Still, it all sounded good. Our companions ordered the Filet Mignon (which the husband said was the best he’s ever had), and the mother and daughter each had mini-Kobe burgers, which they too liked, and which looked amazing.

I had Riverhead Salmon, which came 30 minutes after everyone else’s meal was out. I was not fussed, because I had ordered a side of fries which came out with the other meals, and which I got to savor on their own. Just as I was done, my salmon came out. It was extremely tasty, but full of bones, which I hate, so I won’t make that mistake there again, even though it was delicious.

OK, is it time for the music review? Yes indeedy. After we purchased the tickets, we were surprised to find out that Girlyman had an opening act. We were disappointed in that it meant potentially less stage time for them. On the other hand, it was encouraging that they were potentially a big enough draw to warrant an opening act (as in warm up group). The opening act was Garrison Starr.

I don’t want to spend too much time on her. She definitely has some talent. She’s an OK guitar player and she sings reasonably well. That said, she’s a one-woman hard-rock band, which is far from our cup of tea. Her guitar was painfully loud and screeching, and of course, she had to sing at the top of her lungs to be heard over it. Oh well. On rare occasions, she toned down the sound of her guitar, and her voice was more pleasant, and one could make out a few of her words, which weren’t that bad either. We’re not likely to check her out any further, but some of the crowd appeared to enjoy her music, and some might have even come out just to see her…

On to our main attraction, finally. 🙂 (Click on the image below to see a larger version.)

Girlyman at Highline Ballroom

We hadn’t seen Girlyman since August 19th, 2007. Even though we constantly listen to their CDs, we were counting the days. They opened with On the Air, the first cut from the Little Star CD. Instant electricity. Crowd responds with significantly more applause than for Garrison, but that wasn’t a big surprise.

They played a a number of excellent songs, including one of my favorites, Sunday Morning Bird. Lois and I joked with each other that we’d have to go up on the stage and slap them silly if they didn’t perform each of our individual favorites. While I’m nuts about so many of their songs, I’m reasonably sure that my slight favorite is Hold It All At Bay, while Lois’ is without-a-doubt Through To Sunrise.

After a few more songs, they played Hold It All At Bay, so I was safe, but Lois was still waiting (breathlessly). As they neared the end of the show, they still hadn’t played hers. Then they asked the audience to yell out a song on request. We screamed Through To Sunrise at the top of our lungs. So did a few others, but many people shouted out random Girlyman songs, so we were nervous when they finally said, “Do it again, all together!”. So, again, we screamed Through To Sunrise.

After a pause, they said, well, we heard a few there, but this is the one we think we heard the most. They then played Viola. It’s a gorgeous song, which we both love, and were glad to hear, but we were also disappointed not to hear Through To Sunrise…

Right after they finished playing Viola, they said: “You know, we think we heard just as many ask for this, so we’ll play it too.” When Doris picked up the banjo, and Ty picked up the mandolin, I knew with 100% certainty, that they were about to play Lois’ song. Indeed, not only did they play it (brilliantly), but the crowd (led by us, of course!) 🙂 clapped the beat throughout the entire song (the only song that happened for the entire night!), as Girlyman themselves taught us to do at Joe’s Pub! It was awesome.

As Lois said to me afterwards, given that kind of crowd reaction, how can they ever not play that song?!?!?

They closed with Joyful Sign, the title cut of their latest album, and one of my top picks (among many top picks). 😉

The cheers were so great that they came out for three encores, and all were wonderful and fully appreciated by the crowd.

That was the overview. I have a drop of detail to add, but if you’ve lost interest already, you at least know they were brilliant, again, and can bail now…

Their song selection varied somewhat (of course, there were overlaps) from Joe’s Pub, so that was wonderful for us as well. In addition to just mixing up their repertoire, they also introduced three new songs. Each one of them had written one. All three were amazing. We literally can’t wait for the next CD, since we now know they have at least 25% of it completed. 🙂

Ty’s song was called The Saints Come Marching In (or very close to that), and it’s beautiful. Nate’s had “Easy” in the title, and I apologize for not remembering it. It was gorgeous. He played the acoustic guitar for it (something he does for less than a handful of songs each concert), and both women sang without instruments (something that rarely happens), and yet, the sound was soaring!

Doris’ song was the best of the three, so, of course, bonehead that I am, I can’t recall the title at all. 🙁 The harmonies on that song are so dramatic, and Doris belts out the lead in such a breath-taking manner, I can’t credibly describe it. The family we were with hadn’t seen them before, and the husband had only heard one or two songs in advance. He turned to me during the show and said that Doris was an amazing vocalist, and I have to concur completely.

We knew (from reading) that Doris is the harmonizing genius of the group, and obviously, we’ve throughly enjoyed her voice (and guitar/banjo/mandolin playing!), but she surpassed every expectation last night, every time she opened her mouth to sing. There was a raw power and clarity, and she was just generally amazing.

Nate was solid, and as entertaining as you can imagine. In fact, while I mentioned in the past that all three were engaging with the audience, they were even more so last night, telling stories, and having some (obviously) impromptu banter amongst themselves. They are thoroughly natural on the stage, and it is infectious.

On to Ty. I hesitated writing this, and as you can see, I’m burying it at the end of a long post, hoping that most people will have gotten bored and left already. That said, I pride myself on trying to share my real opinions, rather than just be a cheerleader, even when I so obviously want to just spread the word about Girlyman.

On some levels, Ty is my favorite in the group. She writes brilliant and moving songs. I really like her voice. She looks like she’s 20, is probably in her low 30’s, but if you listen to her voice on the CDs, there is a maturity that makes her sound older than that. The passion and emotion of her words comes through in her voice, in a very special way.

Last night, something was just off a drop with Ty. I don’t know if she had a cold (though her voice didn’t sound nasal) or if something else was up. Her usually extremely strong voice wavered a number of times (not cracked, more like a slight warble). More amazingly, she missed a few notes (not that many) on some harmonies. Most notably, during my favorite song, Hold It All At Bay.

In that song, Nate sings the first verse alone, and then sings the chorus alone. Ty sings the second verse alone, then the two of them sing the chorus together (in harmony). Doris sings the third verse alone, and then all three sing the chorus together in a haunting harmony that I can never (and don’t want to ever!) get out of my head. When Ty and Nate sang their part together, Ty missed the first two or three notes, and she smiled because she realized it right away.

I’m hoping that whatever was wrong last night, is transient. Even more so, I’m hoping that no one who has read this far, thinks that I was in any way disappointed with Girlyman’s performance last night, or even in Ty’s performance. The evening was completely magical, and both Lois and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more, and can’t wait to see them again.

Finally, Lois and I discussed in the car today that we both think that Girlyman is better than Simon and Garfunkel and Peter, Paul and Mary. I know, heresy to many, and I can even understand that. Why then, are S&G and P,P&M so much better known (and commercially successful) than Girlyman? In my opinion, it’s an accident of timing. Back in the 60’s, the world was ready (and hungry) for the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, S&G, P,P&M, etc. Yes, rock and roll (in the form of The Beatles, etc.) was huge, but folks songs, and in particular the message delivered in the lyrics, were striking a generational chord.

Nowadays, there is (clearly) an audience for that kind of message, but it seems that in general, to be a big sensation, you have to deliver a different kind of sound, and it’s not all that likely that any kind of folk artist will achieve the kind of fame and success that Dylan did (and still does!). Too bad, as the world would be a better place if more people spent serious time listening to Girlyman!