JP Schlegelmilch

Abby Payne at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Abby Payne headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. It was her first headlining set at Stage 2 and I’m willing to bet it won’t be her last!

AbbyPayne

I’ve seen Abby perform two full sets (among some other appearances). The first time, with a full band at Rockwood 1, I had a hard time overcoming the volume.

Last time, Abby was incredible in every possible respect, performing a much quieter set with a trio, also at Rockwood 1. So, I was excited to see her play last night, but I admit to a little trepidation considering that this was going to be a full band set again.

Not to worry! Partially due to Stage 2 being much more expansive (allowing volumes to go higher with fewer problems), and partially due to everyone just playing at an appropriate volume, the set was fantastic.

The first full-band show, Abby played on the electronic keyboards and someone else played the grand piano. Last night they flipped, with Abby spending the entire set at the piano. She’s excellent, and I typically prefer the sound of the piano over the keyboards, so that was a nice surprise as well.

Abby performed a number of the same songs that she did with the trio, but they really took on a dramatically different character. Most of the set (with the obvious exception of the one song Abby performed solo) was power pop. Driving rhythms, soaring vocals, excellent musicianship. The trio had a broad range of genres, but it was really mellow, get lost in the music, not the energy kind of stuff.

Great to know that Abby’s material holds up both ways.

Supporting Abby, left-to-right on stage:

JP Schlegelmilch on electronic keyboards and vocals. I already noted that last time, he was on the piano when she was on the keys. JP was excellent last night, playing a more organ like sound, complementing Abby’s piano play.

JPSchlegelmilch

Stephen Chopek on drums. Stephen was filling in for Abby’s normal drummer, Kenny Shaw. Considering that we see Kenny more than any other drummer, I think he was hiding from us (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!). Not to worry, we both love Stephen’s play. In fact, this was a real treat because most of the other sets that we’ve seen him play have been more folk oriented where he’s impressed with his subtlety.

StephenChopek

Last night’s power pop gave Stephen a chance to open it up quite a bit. I didn’t doubt for a second that he’s comfortable with that style, since I know that he toured with John Meyer for a year. Smile We haven’t seen Stephen perform in 10 months. That’s just way too long, but he’s on the road non-stop, so we’ll take what we can get!

Here’s Stephen, levitating a cymbal. Quite impressive! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist…)

StephenChopekLevitatingCymbal

Chris Anderson on electric bass and vocals. This was our third set of the night watching Chris play. All three sets were radically different from one another. No matter, Chris delights in all genres.

ChrisAnderson

Wil Farr on electric guitar and vocals. Wil is excellent on the guitar. I knew this from the first time I saw him play with Abby, though that night it was primarily his amp which caused my issues with the volume. No such problems last night, so Wil’s play came shining through. He was also a bit more primary on the backup vocals with Abby than the others.

WilFarr

OK, I’m ready for the next one, trio or full band. Let’s get it going!

JPSchlegelmilchWilFarrChrisAndersonStephenChopek

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Bryan Dunn Sweetheart of the Music Hall

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Bryan Dunn is releasing a new CD on April 6th, 2012. He’s performing a CD Release Show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 at 7pm. I’ll be there, you should be too.

It’s rare that I review CDs (before or after they are released). Mostly because I’m not a trained music critic/theoretician, nor a musician either. When I read reviews, they’re usually covering things I wouldn’t think to say, nor would I necessarily feel comfortable saying them even if I thought of it. Winking smile

So why bother reviewing this as-yet-unreleased CD? Because it’s worth it! Last Thursday we saw Jesse Terry play a show at Rockwood. Bryan happened to be in the audience and happened to bring a CD to give to Jesse. When Lois asked him whether he had some more on him, he did one and we bought it.

The last two lines of the post about Jesse’s show were:

Lois already listened to the CD and was blown away. I’ll be getting to it over the weekend.

Now that I’ve listened to it five times, I concur. End of review. Winking smile

Well, perhaps I could be coaxed to say a few more words…

The overall umbrella genre/feel of the CD is straight up Rock. By that, I mean no artificial DJ-like sounds to show off techno-wizardry, just excellent musicians making music.

That said, there is quite a variety of rock styles across the songs, including Classic Rock, Country Rock, Jazz/Swing Rock and perhaps a hint of Bluesy Rock thrown in to fool you. A couple of the songs could easily be in America’s Country Countdown, in my opinion.

All of that is actually secondary though, seriously. What separates Bryan from the pack are his (apparently) effortless lyrical masterpieces (song after song).

The lyrics are simultaneously sophisticated and simple. Huh? What I really mean are they are sophisticated but simultaneously accessible. Big words aren’t used to impress (and force us to look them up), they’re words that are more unexpected that paint a vivid image.

Since Lois and I are drawn to great lyricists, we know a lot of them. One problem that occasionally arises is that the songwriter will fall in love with a phrase, but can’t quite fit it in smoothly with the current melody and beat. The truly greats rework one or the other to make everything feel so natural that you wonder what came first, the lyrics or music. It’s like a marriage made in heaven.

If you couldn’t tell from the above paragraph, Bryan is in the latter category. The lyrics are so perfectly intertwined with the music that you can easily listen to every word while still getting completely lost in the music. Nothing jars you out of the trance with a phrasing that clearly doesn’t fit, no matter how clever it is.

I hesitate to pull out any specific lyrics. First, songs are contextual. Second, as specifically noted above, these lyrics are delivered married to the music (not that they aren’t also poetic in the stand-alone sense). Still, I’ll do it (under protest). This is the last verse in the song 3 Years On:

I have murdered minutes
But still there’s so much precious time to kill
The boy that she left waiting
I do believe he’s waiting for her still
I wrote her a letter on a stone
I don’t think I’m ever coming home

I’ve murdered minutes too…

One of the advantages of buying a physical CD is getting the liner notes (when an artist bothers to include them). We have all of the lyrics written out and Lois listened over and over with the lyrics in her hands and she continued to interrupt me while I was writing about Jesse, to tell me this line or that line that kept getting to her. Now I understand.

I’ll wrap up by saying that this CD was produced by Chris Cubeta. I only saw Chris perform for the first time last Wed night, but I’ve heard about what a great producer he is for a while (specifically with regard to the upcoming The Vanity Belles CD), and now I hear his work first hand.

For example, on Marlene, which has a lot of Swing elements to it, the use of the clarinet (Hideaki Aomori) fits perfectly. On other numbers he employs a trumpet or accordion (Michael Leonhart and JP Schlegelmilch respectively).

OK, I’m drifting into the territory that makes me uncomfortable, so I’ll just stop here. Come to Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 at 7pm on April 6th and judge for yourself. Bryan will have physical CDs for sale there, so you can then experience what we’ve been enjoying for the past five days! Smile

Abby Payne at Rockwood Music Hall

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We’ve seen Abby Payne once before, briefly, at a Benefit Concert. I had only good things to say about her (in particular, her keyboard skills). Still, since she was one of a cast of thousands and sang lead on only one song, I admit that her name didn’t register with me as someone I needed to keep track of.

AbbyPayne

Aside from wanting to follow certain people (OK, I won’t quibble if you call it stalking), I don’t have too much fear that we’ll miss out on a number of talented locals, because our friends (musicians and fans alike) know our taste well enough that they bother to point out shows we might not be aware of. Thanks all, for that!

In this case, it was none other than Chris Anderson, who we’ve seen perform a number of times this week alone, who mentioned that we wouldn’t want to miss Abby Payne, when I told him we were coming to see Chris Ayer at 8pm at Rockwood. She was up the set before Chris Ayer. That was good enough for me.

I won’t (or rather can’t!) classify Abby’s style/genre, as the set was incredibly wide-ranging. I’ll describe my two favorite numbers in a minute (they were near-polar opposites), but she had a number of songs I’d describe as more dissonant/experimental as well.

As I said above, Abby plays the keyboards really well. She also has a lovely voice, but it has a thin, laser-like quality at the highs, which doesn’t work well when mic’ed too high, something I’ll get to at the end.

AbbyPayneSinging

The two songs that totally captivated me came back-to-back. The first was an up-beat Country-like number that had me tapping and swaying throughout. That was immediately followed by a super mellow song, with two members of her band sitting out. I’m saving one of the more special things in that song for when I get to the band, which I’ll do right now.

Left-to-right on the stage:

Wil Farr on electric guitar and vocals (I might not have heard the name correctly, but if I did, I can’t find a good link). Will was very good on both. Unfortunately, his guitar was way too loud on most of the songs (even worse during sound check when it was only him playing). We were on the opposite side (near the door) and it was still relatively painful, largely because the amp was facing us, at ear level. Update: I now know he spells his name with 1 L, so I updated and found the correct link!

WillFarrGuitarWillFarrSinging

JP Schlegelmilch on keyboards (grand piano and electronic). I couldn’t see whether he sang on any of the songs, as Abby was directly between us. JP did a very nice job, but I admit to being surprised that Abby had an extra keyboard player, since that’s her primary instrument on stage. To be fair, on the numbers when he played the electronic keyboard, he had more of an organ sound while her keyboard was set closer to a piano sound.

JPSchlegelmilch

Chris Anderson on electric bass, vocals and ukulele. Say what? Ukulele? Yes! On the mellow song (mentioned above), both Will and JP took a break. Chris picked up a ukulele and played it so sweetly (not even the hint of the typical Hawaiian sound people associate with the uke). I realize it’s a stringed instrument, so I’m not shocked that Chris can play it. That said, it was more of his feel for the instrument that impressed me.

ChrisAndersonUkulele

I’ve also noted a number of times that Chris is starting to sing more. That continued very nicely with Abby. He sang harmony a lot, often with Will as well.

ChrisAndersonSinging

I would love to see Chris whip out the ukulele some night when he’s on stage with Ian Axel and have a little throwdown. Winking smile

Kenny Shaw on the drums. This was the fourth set we’ve seen Kenny play this week. Wait, it was the fourth set for Chris Anderson this week too (three of them had both in the same set). I used to think that I was the only stalking these guys, but now I think perhaps they are feeding me subliminal messages in my sleep to show up wherever they are.

KennyShaw

So, Kenny was great again, in particular on the other song I loved, the Country-like one. On that number, he used brushes, but was hitting them hard, for a just right sound/feel to match the song.

I mention the brushes to contrast the rest of the set (on the louder numbers). Kenny needed to hit pretty hard to match the sound coming out of the guitar. He did. Unfortunately, we were sitting 12 inches from the drum set and our heads were getting blown off.

That leads me back to my earlier point about Abby’s vocals (in particular, the high notes). The entire set (with few exceptions) was simply too loud. This is Rockwood 1, an extremely small venue. It’s simply not suited to cranking every instrument. Obviously, I blame the sound guy, but still, the band should try and do something about it, or book a different room.

Abby had to push to be heard, and her high notes were cutting like a knife. Clear (meaning, she hits every note), but I bet it sounds unbelievably better on her CDs. In an ironic twist, here’s what I had to say about Abby from the Benefit Concert:

The only issue is that it took Abby a bit to crank up the volume on her voice, which was necessary because she (and all of them) were competing with tons of instruments and other vocalists.

My humble apologies to myself, if Abby read that last post and decided to crank up the volume every time to compensate. Winking smile

The part that frustrates me is that at other times, the same sound person at the same venue will get a similarly equipped band playing at a much more reasonable level. That’s why I have no idea who to really blame. You’ll see an example of this fact two posts from now (which will be my last one of the day).