Jesse Ruben

Jesse Ruben at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Jesse Ruben headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. It’s been seven months since we’ve seen Jesse perform. The last time was also at Stage 2, covered here.

JesseRubenGuitar

The last show included a full band. Last night was (nearly) 100% solo. I was surprised, as Rockwood 2 tends to feature bigger sounds (many exceptions) and the one solo set that I saw of Jesse’s was at Rockwood 1.

Surprise aside, Jesse was great and the entire set was a joy to listen to. It’s nice to know that I won’t spend a second in the future thinking about whether to attend one of Jesse’s shows based on whether he’s solo or complemented by a band. Smile

Jesse opened the show with a comment that reflected the sentiment that he tweeted earlier in the day:

Jesse Ruben ? @jesseruben

twitter makes me forget that there are in fact other things happening on earth besides sxsw.

Amen brother. When you follow as many musicians as I do, your timeline blows up during the week of SXSW. In fact, since I follow a bunch of tech people too, the problem is even larger.

Jesse declared this set to be the Anti-SXSW show. Well, I would have accepted that, except that the single most important piece of information that I’ve gleaned from the billions of SXSW tweets is that there are more beards in Austin at the moment than there are in all other cities in the world, combined.

Jesse was sporting quite the beard himself last night. If he truly intended this to be the Anti-SXSW show, he should have shaved. Winking smile

The point of telling you all that (aside from having an excuse to praise Jesse’s beard) was to highlight Jesse’s stage presence, something I’ve written about glowingly twice before. He’s warm, funny, quick, without overdoing any of it. It flows and works.

So, I already told you that Jesse was great. In a few words, all of which are repetition from past posts, the reasons are:

  • He’s an excellent songwriter
  • He sings beautifully (at times really quietly, at times with intense emotion and volume)
  • He plays the guitar beautifully (most of the time rhythm, occasionally wonderful finger-picking)
  • He keeps the audience laughing (and thinking) between songs

JesseRubenSinging

In addition to playing a string of his hits (his word, delivered with sarcastic humility, though they should be hits), he invited one guest up to join him for a cover of Don’t Think Twice by Bob Dylan.

Alexis Babini joined Jesse and played the harmonica between verses. During each chorus, he looked like he was going to sing harmony as well, but he stayed just far enough away from the mic for that not have really happened from my perspective. That’s the only reason I added “(nearly)” when describing the show as 100% solo.

AlexisBabini

There was a really nice crowd at Rockwood, so not every music lover ran to Austin this week. We’re very glad that we were part of it as well.

After the show, Lois asked Jesse for his set list. In fact, she just wanted to take a photo and return it to him. Before she could explain that, he ripped the page out of an actual book that he had written the set list in. The page ripped at the top left corner. Lois tried to paste a blank piece of paper in and fill in the missing piece of the first song title, but it came out worse/unreadable (in my opinion). The first song was Unbreakable, an absolutely fantastic song.

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Jesse Ruben at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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I’ve seen Jesse Ruben do a full set at Rockwood Music Hall once before. Lois was sick that night. I had nothing but compliments for Jesse and you can read about it in the second half of this post. Last night he played Stage 2 and had a full band.

Everything I said about Jesse in the above-linked post was true last night, but it was a significantly better set. The full band was a nice enhancement and the set was more energetic (either because of the band or because of Jesse’s choice of songs). His stage presence was exceptional (as it was the first time).

JesseRuben

What impressed me most was his songwriting. I said that the last time too, but I’m sure I heard new songs and if the older ones held up on second listen, that’s impressive too.

For the most part, Jesse played rhythm because he had a high-quality band behind him. On one song, he called up two special guests and sang with them without the band. He finger-picked beautifully, so he can play the guitar nicely as well!

The guests were Kyle Patrick and Karly Jurgensen. It was convenient to call them up, since Karly had the set before Jesse’s (covered here) and Kyle had the set afterward. They sang gorgeous harmony (no surprise), but Jesse was the huge star in the song, called Advice (I believe). It’s an amazing song, his guitar play was excellent, and he sang most of it without harmony either.

JesseRubenKylePatrickKarlyJurgensen

Twice he put down the guitar and sang his heart out at the mic. The first time was a cover of Joe Cocker’s The Letter. Really well done. Here’s Jesse singing with more than a bit of passion:

JesseRubenSinging

Supporting Jesse, left-to-right on the stage:

Greg Barbone on grand piano. We’ve seen Greg on a couple of sets, both on the same night. We were highly impressed with his play. That was true again last night on Jesse’s set.

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Nicky D’Agostino on drums. We’ve seen Nicky once before as well, and he was excellent last night, as he was the first time, supporting Carley Tanchon.

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Kyle McCammon on electric bass. Kyle played the set before with Karly, which was much more jazz oriented. He was really good on this set too, showing versatility in genre and style. He was also significantly more animated on stage during this high-energy pop/rock set. Jesse said that this was the first time Kyle played with him. That might be true, but I admit to thinking he was joking.

KyleMcCammon

Will Hensley on electric guitar. We just saw Will for the first time on July 31st at the Blues Brothers Benefit. He sounded good, but I noted that he was covered up (visually) and I couldn’t easily match what I thought was the guitar lead to Will’s hands. Last night, playing for Jesse, Will totally blew me away. He was amazing on traditional leads, and excellent with the slide as well.

WillHensley

I will be thrilled to see Will play with anyone, just for his skill, until I find out he is willing to play with a dud headliner. Winking smile

Likewise, I’ll be very happy to see Jesse Ruben again.

To Blog or not to Blog…

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Introduction and Caveats

My strong instinct was/is not to write this post. I often regret overruling my gut and I suspect this time won’t be different. This is a 100% opinion piece (obviously, every post is just my opinion, but this doesn’t even contain the normal factual parts like posting a set list, etc.). If you’re not interested in my personal rant, please tune out now, otherwise, your blood will just boil. Trust me.

I’ve mentioned many times that this blog is written just for me (and Lois) to help me/us remember what incredibly rich and rewarding lives we lead, knowing (from first-hand experience) how quickly memory can fade. That we also end up helping spread the word about many of the musicians that we love is a bonus, but it’s not the purpose.

While I’ve tried to be more positive than not in my musical posts, finding the good things to say, I’ve taken my shots when appropriate (this is the last time that I’ll repeat in this post: in my opinion). This won’t be one of those posts. I have no interest in being mean for the sake of being mean. I don’t need to rant just to get it off my chest. I want to mark this moment, and our feelings, so that we remember it (especially if it causes adjustments in our future behavior!). I have no illusion that it will change anyone’s behavior (other than possibly ours!).

I don’t believe that I’m a particularly naïve person (although that statement might actually prove how naïve I really am). I will say things below that will make me look extremely naïve, so be it. Rather than naïve, I believe I am ignorant of many things in the world (but aware of my ignorance in most cases). Specifically, I know that I have close to zero knowledge about the Music Industry. In fact, many things that seem obvious/intuitive to me about the music business end up being wrong when someone explains them to me.

I am not a music critic. Aside from knowing nothing about the music business, I know very little about music theory. I only know what I like, and on occasion, can articulate why I like it. People correct me here often enough not just on technical points, but when I misidentify someone on stage. I correct it as quickly as I can. I want to be accurate with facts, but I am not trying to review shows in the classical sense.

My final caveat before jumping in: we love music, live and recorded. We love many of the musicians we’ve come to know personally, both as artists and as people. I understand that some of the people I will mention in this post have equally rabid fans and loved ones, who will feel compelled to jump to their defense and call me an idiot, a hater and likely worse.

I get that there are a wide variety of tastes out there. I get that many people scratch their heads (or laugh) at the music that I think is amazing. This isn’t about specific musical taste (though some of the points will come off that way). My apologies in advance for offending anyone specifically. I’m trying to make some generic points, but I feel compelled to give some recent specific examples in making them.

What started this

Up until recently, I’ve posted about every single show we’ve attended, no exceptions. Even when I railed about a particular show, I tried to present a lot of positive things as well (at least why we chose to go, if I couldn’t find anything else nice to say). Needless to say, it led to a few venomous comments. I was impressed that we were able to engage in a meaningful dialog in most cases and come to a better understanding of each other’s positions. I hope that if this post starts off with hostile comments, that we can use it to better understand each other in the end as well.

In March, a musician wrote to me out of the clear blue to tell me that he read my blog about someone he had performed with at another time. He was letting me know that he had a show scheduled in NYC in April, inviting me to attend if I could. I asked the person he performed with if he thought I would like his music and he said I would. Lois and I made the effort to attend.

After the show, I had a hard time thinking of anything particularly nice to say. I also didn’t have anything negative to say that had a point to it. I just didn’t enjoy the set. It was simple. I wasn’t even annoyed that this artist was bold enough to market to a single person, that part still impressed me. It was the first time I didn’t write a post about a show we attended. If I didn’t mention it here, it’s easy to believe that at some point, we’ll forget we ever even attended…

I felt badly afterward that I edited myself. Other than writing a post to mark the occasion, and saying that I didn’t enjoy the set, I was too conscious of not wanting to hurt that artist’s feelings. Consider my statement above about not being a music critic. I didn’t feel the need to warn people to avoid this person’s shows. Even accounting for the fact that he has a lot of fans, the people that regularly read this blog might have more similar tastes to mine and want me to say who I don’t like, as much as who I do.

Last weekend it happened again. Someone reached out to me in an email, inviting me to her show this past Tuesday. It was one of the best notes I’ve read, completely professional and to the point. She told me why I should come (if I was available) in a very concise way. We bought tickets and attended the show.

Afterward, I had a ton of negative things to say. This time, many even (potentially) had a point. And yet, for only the second time, I decided not to blog. I felt badly again. I was compromising the purpose of this blog for the sake of sparing people’s feelings. That sounds noble, but it’s also a bit of a copout. Given how long-winded I am, the amount of effort that goes into each and every post is overwhelming (at least I have the time to do it). I was somewhat relieved that I had a rationalization for avoiding the effort, especially for a show I didn’t enjoy.

So, why am I writing now and mentioning both of those shows? Last night was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. We walked out of another totally unsatisfying show (that’s being kind) and our first instinct was to skip another blog again. Three times in three weeks? I felt that I at least had to say what it was that was making me not blog. Depending on how I feel after this post is out and see what kind of reactions it gets (if any!), I’ll decide how to deal with these types of shows in the future (they will happen, it’s inevitable given how often we attend live music).

Let’s start with the first post I skipped. The show wasn’t awful, it was just a waste of our time. But, it struck me deeply. This person drove from out of state to play this show. He had another band member with him. He had a small entourage (photographer friend, merch seller, etc.). Where did they play? A place we had never been to before: The National Underground. I think there are two rooms there. This show took place in the bar area, on the street level.

It was a small crowd. The room couldn’t handle a large crowd anyway, so my point isn’t that it wasn’t well attended. They didn’t pass around a tip jar either. So, it seemed to me that this person drove to NYC for the chance to pick up a handful of fans (whatever that means), and to possibly sell a little merch. There’s no way it could have covered the gas and tolls under the best of circumstances. If it was an extra stop along a tour, it’s a little easier to understand. Otherwise, I found myself wondering why does he bother?

But, perhaps the more burning question (which only became clearer to me after last night’s show), why did the venue book him? Is it so hard to find acts that can do a better job? In particular local acts who have at least a modest following who could bring business to the bar? Something felt broken to me about how these places get their lineups.

On to this past Tuesday. I have no need to try to hurt this specific artist’s feelings, so I won’t mention her by name. I also won’t mention the venue, because then it would be trivial to figure out which show we attended.

One of the things that she promoted to me in her email was interesting. She wanted to do something different in the indie scene. She intended to have all of her backup singers from her set perform individually in the round, as the opening set. I liked the idea. It’s not the only reason we attended, but it was a selling point. We love when artists highlight their band (including backup vocalists, etc.). This seemed a particularly good way to do it.

Guess what, that’s not what happened. There was no in the round at all. There were three opening acts (very traditional), each performing exactly five songs. Two of the acts were indeed part of her backup singers. The third wasn’t. One of her backup vocalists was ill. This person filled in for the ill person’s opening act, but a different person filled in for the ill person in the backup singers, even though the fill-in for the backups is quite a performer in her own right (we know, we’ve seen her multiple times).

OK, not the end of the world, just not as billed. But, while the large-ish room was reasonably empty for the openers, the people that were there did a helluva job sounding like 1,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs. My heart cried out for the people on stage who could barely be heard even though they were amplified. I know, it happens (you’re saying). Yes, but this was supposed to be different.

If the headliner had meant what she wrote to me, she would have come out before the openers, explained what she was trying to accomplish (presumably, to highlight the amazing people she had chosen to back her up vocally), and asked her friends and fans to join her in enjoying some talent that they otherwise might not discover.

Nope, she just threw them to the wolves. Wolves that were there presumably because they have some connection (musically or personally) to her.

OK, so we’ve seen rude crowds before (perhaps not this bad), we knew we’d survive. Surely, the headliner was going to floor us. Bzzzt, nope again. There were highlights, to be sure, but they did not include the headliner.

Her band was really good. The drummer is amazing (we’ve seen him before), the lead guitarist was terrific on a number of leads (in particular the closing number). It turns out we’ve seen him once before supporting a solo artist and we were both blown away by him then as well! Then there’s the bass player. We saw him once before too, in one of the best sets we’ve ever experienced (OK, more me than Lois, as the style of music is more to my taste). At least, after the show, I got to tell the drummer and bassist about that magical set (they were both part of it). I can’t name them here, because again, I don’t want to make it too easy to figure out the name of the headliner.

All of the backup singers (five in total) had excellent voices. There was a string quintet on stage as well. They were all good too. While I wouldn’t tell you their names either, we were both annoyed that the headliner introduced her band by their full names, but the backup singers and quintet were introduced by first names only (so I don’t even know the names of the quintet players even if I wanted to promote them).

So what, we didn’t care for her music. So what, we didn’t care for the fact that she slighted 10 of the people on stage with her assuming people could try and figure out their last names on their own. So what that she didn’t do anything to help out the openers with her crowd. Is there anything else that annoyed us? Yes.

Her crowd was just as rude to her as they were to the openers, only in a different way. First, while it filled in more for her set, it was still not a well attended show (by any measure). She booked too large a room for her following. Her friends (I feel safe in calling them that, rather than her fans, as you’ll hopefully agree) came a bit closer to the stage (most were hanging near the bar when the openers were playing).

Between songs, they cat-called to her, yelling her name every few seconds, whistling, basically calling attention to themselves in as loud a manner as they could. The minute she started playing a song, most turned their backs to her and started talking to each other at the top of their lungs. I would have been more annoyed if the songs were better, but instead, it provided a whole different level of entertainment watching them outdo each other in currying favor between songs, while ignoring each song as judiciously as they could. See why I call them friends rather than fans?

So, on to last night. Here, I’m going to name names, at least some of them, because I have enough good things to say about them in general (not necessarily regarding last night) and because they have real fans (many of them) so there’s nothing I can say to really hurt their careers (which is the last thing I want to do to any aspiring artist).

I’ve heard about The Click Five many times, but had never seen them, nor really heard any of their music. I’ve seen the lead singer Kyle Patrick a couple of times, and was impressed each time. I’ve seen the bass player Ethan Mentzer as well and he’s terrific too. We are friendly with many of their musician friends, all of whom respect The Click Five tremendously.

For icing on the cake, one of the openers was Jesse Ruben. I’ve seen a full set of Jesse’s at Rockwood and really enjoyed it. Lois missed that show, so I was particularly interested in last night’s show because I thought she’d really like Jesse. There were three other opening acts in addition to Jesse and the venue was new to us: Rebel NYC.

The doors opened later than announced, and the line moved like molasses once they were opened. When we finally got inside we saw that the main room wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience for watching the show (to our taste). A long, narrow room with the stage at one end of the long side. Speakers all over the room (it was going to be loud) and flashing/strobing lights everywhere, with disco balls hanging from the ceiling (yes, multiple ones). There were a few benches/booths along the sides, most already taken.

At the far end of the room (opposite the stage) was a lounge area with leather couches. Since we knew we had at least a three-hour wait until The Click Five would come out, we decided to forego standing the entire time and we sat on a couch along the back wall, facing the stage. The most positive thing I can say about the evening is that the couch was incredibly comfortable (though even that got tiresome in hour three…).

While it’s easy to look up the three openers from last night that I am not going to mention by name, I really mean it when I say that I’m trying to make some generic points, but using specific examples to make them. In other words, I am not trying to put them down, as I’m sure that they too have some very rabid fans.

First point, not enough fans of headliners make the effort to honestly check out openers. There are many openers I don’t like either (last night qualifies), but I give them every single chance to win me over, until their set is over. I don’t use it as an excuse to make their job harder, just because I’m not enjoying it. Ultimately, my point is that most of the rude people don’t even give the opener’s 10-seconds of listening, so it’s not that they don’t like it, they don’t care enough to find out. In other words, not music lovers at all, just people who want to be part of the scene.

When the first band hit the stage, there were very few people in the audience. Part of that was due to how slowly the line was moving to be let in to begin with, coupled with the doors opening late. Still, that small crowd managed to be so loud, in the face of a blaringingly loud rock band, that it was an incredible thing to witness. Granted, we were as far away from the stage as you could be (and still be in sight of it), so we were closer to the noise-making than people standing next to the stage. Unfortunately, there were very few people next to the stage.

The next band had more members in it. While I didn’t enjoy their set either, their lead guitarist was excellent and the drummer was incredible. Here’s what amazed me though. Somehow, the crowd settled down for them. There was noise, to be sure, but there were enough fans of this band to have entire pockets of people actually paying attention. I was getting hopeful.

Then the next act came on (acoustic). I was particularly interested to see if the settling down would continue further given that this would be harder to hear with any noise. It also seemed that this person was better known. Not only did it get noisy again, it was way worse than before. It felt like there wasn’t a single quiet person in the place (of course that isn’t true, as Lois and I tried to listen as intently as we could).

To be fair (to the crowd, and to be honest with myself), I thought this person (solo for a few songs, then accompanied by one then two people at the end) was awful. The person who sang harmony with him didn’t hit a single note (really!). I am a sucker for harmony and this wasn’t it.

OK, I’ll circle back to my real problem with the openers in my summary. At least, the two acts I really came for were about to hit the stage, Jesse Ruben followed by The Click Five!

So, three bands performed without any technical glitches. Jesse hits the stage solo, with just an acoustic guitar, and they can’t get him set up. He was on the stage for over five minutes, then he left. He didn’t return for nearly fifteen minutes and when he did, they still couldn’t get his sound out (to his satisfaction). It took another 10 minutes. In other words, it took over 30 minutes for him to start his set after the intermission from the set before. A long night just got way longer than it needed to be. I have no idea why, I’m just complaining anyway…

Here’s where it gets weird (really Hadar?). The only place where people weren’t making noise consistently throughout the night was in the lounge area where we were sitting (15-20 people in total). I found it strange because it’s the most natural place to ignore the show. You’re sitting as far from the stage as possible, in a square of couches, with a wall between you and the standing audience. You could almost pretend you were somewhere else and there was some background music being piped in (albeit deafeningly loud).

Why is that weird? Because the people in the lounge were clearly there for Jesse and/or The Click Five. They hooted every time The Click Five were mentioned by an opening act. They hooted when Jesse came on the stage. The couple next to us were friends of Jesse (the guy was, and he introduced Jesse to his girlfriend during an earlier intermission).

When Jesse started playing, our lounge got loud. The group of eight girls that had chatted quietly started passing around phones (presumably sharing text’s or FB updates) and screaming at the top of their lungs in response. The two women immediately in front of us who spent the entire night texting (quietly), started doing the same thing (well, not screaming, but talking much more loudly). They were so not into the show, they picked this moment to ask the staff to take their pictures!

His friend and girlfriend chatted throughout his set. Quietly, but they didn’t pay attention to a single song, even though the girlfriend obviously hadn’t heard him before. I was quite surprised that they didn’t bother to get off the couch and move closer to the stage, for at least Jesse’s set. Hey, at least they supported him by buying tickets, right? Right, unless they were on the list

When Jesse started his last number, one of the eight girls screamed “I love this song!”. She then proceeded to scream to her friends throughout the rest of the song, not listening, nor allowing them to either.

So, from my perspective, how was Jesse’s set? Musically, excellent. He played five good songs, sang well, accompanied himself on the guitar well. I can only hope that enough people recognized the vast difference in talent that Jesse displayed compared with the earlier acts (in particular the other acoustic one).

However, at his Rockwood show, I was also impressed with Jesse’s ease on stage (his banter and connection with the crowd). Last night, he totally misread the nature of the crowd and the venue/room. He tried to take control with similar banter, and I honestly believe that he lost more people every time he opened his mouth.

As a general point, that I’ve mentioned once or twice before, performers, please, stop saying “How are you all doing tonight?”. It’s ridiculous on every level. In particular when you’re the fourth act on stage and the first three asked the same question, with effectively zero reaction from the crowd. It makes you lazy and appear to have not paid any attention to what went on before you.

The one impressive thing was that when Jesse was done, it took significantly less time to get The Click Five going (all five playing more sophisticated instruments than Jesse did) than it took to get Jesse going. Whew.

We stayed for three songs and left when they started playing a cover as the fourth. We liked their sound (so our leaving was not a knock on The Click Five). We were wiped out and in no mood to enjoy music. It was crazy loud (we often feel that the sound guy cranks the headliner just to ensure that they are the loudest act of the show). It wasn’t enjoyable, even though they are clearly wildly talented guys.

The noise level subsided a bit, which only made it all the more strange that the volume of the band got cranked to unreasonable levels. And their fans? Well, the eight girls who hooted every time their name was mentioned walked out during the second song. Huh? I know why we left, but them?

OK, I realize how crazy long the above is. I also realize it’s specific, not only to our tastes, but to a very limited number of shows. Lois would argue that the points I’m about to make now should have been made first, with the specifics supporting them. Because I felt badly not covering those shows, I wanted/needed to get the specifics off my chest, so they came first, even if that meant losing a lot of people before the generic points were even made…

Generic Points

Who decides on the opening acts? I’ve been told by bands that it varies. Sometimes the band is asked/allowed/required to choose the opener. Sometimes the venue dictates (or the promoter). Last night (and a number of times) the decisions made, make little sense.

Either the acts are mismatched to the headliner (then people like me wonder why the audience doesn’t pay attention) or they simply stink (I know how subjective that is). In my heart of hearts, I can’t imagine that top acts think highly of the acts that I think are horrible. Yet, they appear with them, names on the same marquee.

This industry is full of talent. Yet it’s still hard to discover good music in the swamp of bad. I feel it’s incumbent on both the venues (specifically the bookers) and the acts that have sway, to ensure that the openers at least have some reasonable talent. I know it’s not going to happen, but there’s so much good music that doesn’t get heard, that it’s a crime that awful groups get to play every night, at thousands of venues across the country.

Next, these shows aren’t festivals. Why did we need four openers last night? Is it to make people feel that they’re getting their money’s worth? If so, pick better acts. Even if that’s true, most are coming for the headliner. One of the reasons this happens (on Tuesday and Thursday this week for the shows we attended), is that the headliner either can’t, or isn’t interested in being on stage for over an hour. The “can’t” part would be true if they have a very small catalog.

Venues need to decide if they are a disco or a concert hall (even if it’s standing, with the intention of dancing/swaying to the music). One of the single most ridiculous things we encounter (worst of all at Rebel NYC!) is lights that flash at the audience. Rebel is the worst, because in addition to normal floodlights of all colors flashing in our eyes (during the performance), they had strobe lights (so bright they could land planes in fog with them) that could easily set off seizures. It’s crazy. We’re trying to watch the band on stage, and we’re blinded in the process. I simply can’t imagine the purpose, other than to enhance a drug high!

There are many more bars/clubs/discos in the country than music venues. This is even more true of paid music shows (meaning, where you have to buy a ticket in advance to get in). I simply can’t wrap my head around people who knowingly pay for a ticket to a music show, and then not only proceed to ignore every act (presumably including their reason for buying the ticket) but knowingly disturb everyone else’s ability to enjoy the show. I say “knowingly”, because even when they are forcefully shushed, they give a dirty look and continue to talk as loud as they can.

Why don’t those people who want to drink and socialize go to a bar/club/disco? I have a good friend who is a full-time musician. When I rant to him about this, he says: “Any musician who can’t deal with a rude audience better quit today. It’s simply a part of the job.” In other words, he’s excusing it (in my mind). Of course, he’s not, he’s accepting it. I wish we didn’t have to settle for that kind of behavior as the norm.

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

Alex Wong and Jesse Ruben at Rockwood Music Hall

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I haven’t been to Rockwood Music Hall (the original, Stage 1) in quite a while. In fact, I had to look it up (I knew there was a reason that I bother to blog!). It was 7/29/2010 to see Delta Rae. I’ve been to Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 a bunch of times since then, so Rockwood is still getting the majority of my NYC music business. Winking smile

Alex Wong is reason enough to show up wherever he is. He’s an extraordinarily talented individual (note, I didn’t just say musician). He’s a singer/songwriter, songwriting collaborator, multi-instrument musician, amazing producer and all around nice guy.

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While Alex was reason enough to come out, he had a number of guests announced (not all played) and I have long wanted to see the person who was on at 9pm before Alex.

First the bottom line, then some color commentary. Last night’s set was fantastic.

Alex played 2/3’s of the set solo, mostly on the acoustic guitar. He played two songs at the grand piano. He opened solo with The Same Old Things.

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Melissa Tong on the violin joined Alex for the next number, one of my favorites, Brooklyn Blurs, which they knocked out of the park. I’ve said it so many times, Melissa is an incredible musician, we can’t get enough of her. I look forward to seeing her play with a symphony, her specialty.

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David Fallo on the viola joined both Alex and Melissa. David is a star (as are all of the musicians who play with Alex). In addition to sitting in on these types of shows, David is currently part of the orchestra in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. That’s no shabby gig!

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The three of them played a fun and energetic version of Motion Sickness. Alex divided the audience in half. I was in the Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na section (yes, those were the exact number of Na’s we sang at a clip, over and over). Smile

Martin Rivas on acoustic guitar and harmony joined Alex for another favorite of mine, A Girl Like You, from Alex’s previous group, The Animators. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. Martin is an excellent guitar player who always defers to his plethora of guest star guitar players in his own sets. When playing with Alex, he’s the guest and therefore featured on the guitar. Such a wonderful thing to hear. Do more of it in your sets too Martin!

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Alex finished the show by playing three consecutive new songs, all co-written with other wonderful singer/songwriters. If you weren’t there last night, you wouldn’t know that I just lied to you. Alex announced on Facebook that he would play three new songs in a row, but he actually threw in an existing song after the first new one, before completing the new trilogy.

The first new song was a Christmas song co-written with Rachel Platten. Alex told a long story about the derivation of the song. It was his first Christmas in NYC (2004), which wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas in NYC. The story was incredible, funny and touching. Alex doesn’t usually talk this much on stage. I vote that he talk more, it was a very nice addition to the set.

The second new song was played on the piano. It was co-written with Paul Freeman. Alex is producing Paul’s new CD. A very moving song.

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Finally, also on the piano, Alex played a song he co-wrote with Nate Campany. Nate was supposed to be there to sing harmony with Alex, but he didn’t show up (I saw him tweet today, so there’s no reason for concern). Excellent song. I told Alex after the show that when he produces it, he needs to have a full choir singing the “Yeah, yeah, yeah” part. I heard it as clear as a bell in my head even though Alex was singing alone.

Alex offered that I produce it instead. I told him I’ll happily produce those three words, he can work his usual magic on the rest. Winking smile

Jesse Ruben played the set before Alex. I have wanted to see Jesse for a long time. He tours with some other people that I like and I like his MySpace stuff (linked to his name). Not only didn’t Jesse disappoint me, he surprised me in a number of positive ways.

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Jesse is a very good songwriter (wide range of topics). He sings extremely well. He plays the acoustic guitar solidly, mostly rhythm, but beautiful finger picking on a song I’ll cover in a minute.

The biggest surprise was Jesse’s general stage presence, in particular his wit. There was a ton of laughter throughout the set. It came both from his stories and from his very quick responses to things that audience members shouted out.

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Jesse introduced practically every song with a story. It was extremely well delivered and enhanced my enjoyment of each song.

Kyle Patrick joined Jesse for two songs. We’ve seen Kyle once before at the Livestrong fundraiser. I thoroughly enjoyed his 2-song set that night and I have tried hard to arrange my schedule to catch Kyle again, unsuccessfully. He sang lead on one of the songs last night harmony on another. There was a good bit of na-na-na-na on the song that Kyle sang lead, with much of the audience joining in.

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Karly Jurgensen toured with Kyle and Jesse all summer. Jesse invited her up to perform one of her songs, accompanied by Jesse and Kyle. Karly has a wonderful voice and plays the piano solidly. The song was beautiful, a slower bluesy number. Jesse and Kyle harmonized during the chorus. Very nicely done.

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Back to the song that Jesse finger picked. If you know me, or read this blog regularly, then you know that Lois and I are obsessed with Wicked and The Wizard of Oz in general. Not that this is too small-worldish (given how huge Wicked and The Wizard of Oz are), but we always get signs from one or the other that connect us more deeply to things we already like.

Out of the blue, without even announcing a cover song, Jesse played If I Only Had a Heart. Absolutely gorgeous rendition. The only thing missing was not having Lois there to look at knowingly and hold hands with. That Jesse also chose that song to show off a bit of his guitar skills is the kind of thing I was talking about in the paragraph above. Smile

Rockwood was packed for Jesse’s set, dominated by people who were obviously huge Jesse Ruben fans. That always makes the sets more fun even though Jesse was new to me.

One of the people in the audience was Sam Teichman. Sam, Jesse and a bunch of other people in the audience are running in the NYC Marathon this Sunday, raising money for cancer care. Last Thursday, Sam was involved in putting together a charity concert at The Bitter End, called the “Born to Run” show, featuring Bruce Springsteen covers.

I would have loved to attend that show and a number of my friends did. I was already committed to a house concert featuring ambeR Rubarth and I too had an amazing evening.

Jesse mentioned that Sam was still raising money for the cause and that he was offering a DVD filled with music from 22 different artists that participated in the Born to Run show. Donations greater than $1 would get you the DVD. I was sitting across the table from Sam (whom I have met once before at a Rockwood 2 show) and I donated in exchange for the DVD right after Jesse’s set.

After Alex Wong’s set, I made a quick tour of Rockwood to say hi/bye to a number of friends. We’ve been away for a long time and it was really good to see everyone (performers and audience members alike). I wish Lois could have been with me, but she’s been sick ever since we returned. Today is day 12. Let’s hope it’s one of the last. This isn’t the type of streak anyone is proud of.

Given that Lois wasn’t in attendance, any complaints about photo quality land squarely on my shoulders.