Keith Urban

Keith Urban and Sugarland at MSG

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Thursday was a very big night for our musical tastes in NYC. Our favorite band, Girlyman, was in town playing in our favorite club, Joe’s Pub. The Paper Raincoat (playing under the top-secret moniker Cardboard Bikini) was playing at Rockwood Music Hall. The group that has been opening for most of Girlyman’s shows on this tour, Po’ Girl was playing at The Living Room and Will Knox was playing at Rockwood Music Hall.

Months before any of those shows were announced, we bought two tickets to see Keith Urban and Sugarland at Madison Square Garden (MSG). Having seen them each once before at MSG (not on the same bill), we knew that even though we were missing other great shows, we wouldn’t be disappointed that we decided to stick with our original plan!

Keith came on stage at 9pm (I’ll cover Sugarland after Keith). He had five band members on stage with him. Keith is an extraordinary guitar player, all styles, has a superb voice (great range as well) and for the most part, has a really good catalog of songs. While we own two of his CDs, and I like them both, I’m not drawn to them in the way I am to many others.

All that changes when you see him live. He is a consummate performer and entertainer, and for that alone, it would worth seeing him live (along with the top-notch production crew and execution). Even that isn’t the real reason to go (IMHO). As I mentioned in my last post after seeing him at MSG, Keith has an aura, a presence, a soul, that is completely captivating. That he delivers 100% on the performance and the music, is gravy (good gravy, indeed).

KeithUrbanCloseup

He is generous in so many ways (a quality we admire greatly, and I call it out whenever I spot it). Not only does he thank everyone involved in bringing this big a show to so many cities, he thanked the crowd, for finding a way in these tough times, to come out to the show. More on that a little later on.

Keith delivers consistently from soft ballads, accompanying himself on a solo acoustic guitar, to hard-driving rock songs, with the full band cranking out ear-splitting sounds. He plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and on one special number, sung to his wife (Nicole Kidman, who was in the audience last night), he played electric keyboards (very well!).

KeithUrbanKeyboards KeithUrbanAcousticGuitar

We sat pretty far back and reasonably high up (these shows are nearly sold out before tickets go on sale, let’s not even get started on that nonsense, or the outrageous fees associated with purchasing via TicketMaster). That makes the people on the stage look like hand puppets. Here’s a view from our seats:

ViewFromOurSeats

Similar to last year, but still quite different this time, Keith overcomes that by projecting the action on very large screens at the back of the stage, and large (but much smaller ones) to the left and right of the stage. The effect is generally excellent, and you really do feel that you’re part of the show, and not just a distant observer.

Here are a group of shots to give you a sense. In most, you can see the people on the stage, in front of the giant screens. You can click on any picture in this post to see a larger version:

KeithUrban1 KeithUrban2 KeithUrban3 KeithUrban4 KeithUrban5

To somewhat compensate for the fact that very few people can experience him up close and personal, Keith spends a decent amount of time moving around in the crowd. The simplest thing is that he has a ramp at either end of the stage where he plays to the crowds on either side, as if they were center stage!

KeithUrbanRightSideStage

The more complex maneuvers involve a few bodyguards leading (and trailing) the way as he runs through the crowd, continuing to sing and play the guitar while moving, until he settles somewhere. Twice, he ended up on a tiny alternate stage toward that back of the floor area. At most it was a 6’ x 6’ platform (it could have been as small as 4’ x 4’).

The first time he made his way back there, he played a solo number on electric guitar, leading it off by asking the crowd “Who has the good seats now?” 🙂

KeithUrbanMiniStage

He followed that by sitting down for a soulful acoustic number, accompanied subtly but gorgeously by the drums (perhaps a whisper of some other instruments) which were still back on the original (darkened) stage. Then the lights came up on the stage, and the full band played another number, with all of them seated on the stage, as Keith remained seated on the mini-stage in the back.

KeithUrbanMiniStageSeated

There was no buffer zone from the mini-stage to the crowd back there, so Keith was high-fiving and shaking hands with a lot of people between songs. He then promptly made his way back to the main stage, while singing and playing the guitar the entire way through the crowd.

KeithUrbanAmongTheCrowd

He descended into the crowd at least three more times. He went into the stands, and sang part of a song surrounded by the folks, no stage involved. He then made his way back to the mini-stage for part of a song, and from there, worked his way back to the main stage through the other side of the floor.

None of it feels like a trick, even though it obviously is, as you feel his desire to connect with, and give value to the audience, even those that are stuck far away from the main stage. He pulls it off perfectly, every time. When they show the beaming faces on the big screens, even if you’re not one of them, you feel the same elation on their behalf.

KeithUrbanAdoringFans

He warned the audience early on that this wasn’t going to be a short show, and he told the truth. Including a very nice encore, Keith was on stage for nearly two hours and 15 minutes! Don’t forget, there was also an opening act!

About 3/4’s of the way in, Keith invited Sugarland to join him. They did a stunning number that was 50% a capella and 50% with Keith and Kristian playing their guitars. Fantastic!

I mentioned his generosity, and I’d like to go into a bit more detail on that. I’ll start with his band. Nearly all artists introduce each member of their band by name at least once in the show. Not all do, and there will be an example of that later on. Keith goes way beyond just introducing them, and aside from the wonderful spirit in which he does it, for me personally, it made a big difference in another way.

Here are some good shots of the band on the big screens:

KeithUrbanBand3 KeithUrbanBand1 KeithUrbanBand2

There are five people in Keith’s band. Three of them play any number of stringed instruments, one of them plays the electric bass and there is a drummer. While it’s inconceivable that the band members aren’t among the best musicians around (after all, Keith can obviously have his pick), the general sound is so loud, and Keith is such a highlight in most songs, that it’s really hard to notice any of the band members too critically.

In particular, except for when the banjo is the lead-in to a song, it’s hard to even hear that the banjo is being played (later on in the same song). So, rather than just introduce each member, Keith explains what their expertise is, and then gives each of them (individually) the main mic, center stage, and let’s them have the sole spotlight for 2-3 minutes each.

Wow! Each of the four guys (not including the drummer, who I’ll get to in a minute), have incredible voices. While you can hear harmonies with Keith, you can’t tell who’s singing, and the instruments drown it out a bit. Those four guys are (each of the photos was of them, during their spotlight solo!):

Brad Rice on vocals, guitars, banjo and mandolin.

BradRice

Chris Rodriguez on vocals, guitars, banjo and mandolin.

ChrisRodriguez

Brian Nutter on vocals, guitars, banjo and mandolin.

BrianNutter

Jerry Flowers on vocals and bass.

JerryFlowers

Last, but certainly not least, we come to the extraordinary drummer, Chris McHugh. I am drum fanatic, and I write a lot about the many great drummers we see. For this kind of music (Country, Rock, Ballads), he’s the best (in my opinion). If you didn’t click through to my last post about seeing Keith at MSG, I’ll repeat what I said about Chris here:

While the entire band was superb, I feel the need to specifically call out the drummer, Chris McHugh. I had never heard the name before, but obviously, I’ve heard him before. If you look at the page I linked to, I own at least four of the albums he’s played on, and I saw the movie Cars as well. I don’t know how he finds the time to eat given how much studio work he puts in, but he’s so amazing, that I understand why all of these superstars want him!

He was that good, again, last night.

ChrisMcHugh

As if that wasn’t enough, Keith called up the entire road crew on the stage, and thanked them for the great job that they do. Come on, who else does that? When the encore was over, the big screen ran the Credits like in a movie, and in addition to the band, every member of the road crew was listed, along with their job. The scrolling went on and on. It’s the right thing to do, and we applaud Keith for doing it!

KeithUrbanRoadCrew

Credits1 Credits2

As the encore was ending, Keith ran off stage (while the song was still going on). A camera followed him running through the tunnels in the back of MSG. Then he ran on to the street (all while the song was still being played by the band on stage). Then he hailed a cab, got in, waved, and drove off. It was a fun touch to end the evening. 🙂

KeithUrbanHailingCab

On to Sugarland. We both love Sugarland, now a duo made up of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush. They are supported by five additional band members.

JenniferNettles

KristianBush

For all that, Sugarland is effectively Jennifer Nettles  (don’t get me wrong, Kristian and the band are very talented, but it really doesn’t matter). Jennifer has one of the most consistently amazing voices in Country music. It’s strong, clear, has incredible range, deliver emotions appropriately and everything else you could want from a voice. She plays guitar (well) on a few numbers, but that doesn’t matter either.

She also has an infectious spirit on stage, and a great smile, that was captured in all its glory on the big screens.

The other thing that makes Sugarland great is that whomever picks their songs (they write some, but I believe that they cut more than they create) is a genius (it may be them, I don’t know). Whereas Keith brings average songs to life in person, Sugarland starts with 90% of their recorded songs being phenomenal to begin with. That they then deliver a fantastic live performance makes it all the more delicious.

While Keith’s sound got a bit too loud in the higher energy numbers, Sugarland’s never did, and Jennifer’s voice was perfect (in every sense, including volume) last night. In fact, we normally hate the acoustics (and sound levels) at MSG, but for Sugarland’s performance, I was quite impressed.

Here’s a picture of the audience from their perspective from the stage, as shown on the big screen:

ViewFromStage

They did two numbers (at least) where it was just the two of them, both singing (mostly Jennifer) and Kristian playing acoustic guitar. Not the type of sound you would expect to fill MSG. Her voice (all by itself), did! It enveloped every person in the crowd, and drizzled honey on all of us. 🙂

Here’s a shot of them with a cool effect where they appear in silhouette on the big screen (you can see them standing right in front of the big screens at the bottom of the photo if you click on it):

SugarlandSilhouette

All of that is the good stuff. For the bad, the mirror image of Keith’s generosity. Sugarland didn’t introduce a single member of their band, even though they were on stage for 70 minutes! They had excellent chemistry with the band, in particular with the female bassist. They even closed the show with the two of them surrounding the drummer on his final flourish.

We don’t understand that, and it doesn’t happen all that often.

I’m going to try to do what Sugarland doesn’t, and give them some credit, which they richly deserve. Unfortunately, I might be naming the wrong people, since I really can’t be sure who was on stage (in particular since we were so far away!):

Annie Clements played the electric bass and sang quite a bit. The bass playing was good, but the voice was exceptional. She also has an excellent stage presence, and hammed it up quite a bit with Jennifer (hence my assertion that the chemistry seemed great on stage).

AnnieClements

Brandon Bush (Kristian’s brother!) plays keyboards (don’t know if he sang, I simply couldn’t see). He was excellent throughout the set.

Scott Patton played lead guitar. At least I’m pretty sure it was him. He was really good throughout as well.

ScottPattonScottPattonGuitar

Thad Beaty played guitar and sang. Another good performance all around.

Travis McNabb played the drums. He was particularly good.

Anyway, I feel better now. 🙂

When the show was over, we were both sorely tempted to do something that we’re too old to do, and not temperamentally suited to do, and that was to head over to Rockwood Music Hall, and catch the Paper Raincoat show, which began at midnight! We came close to pushing our limit, but some sanity returned and ruled the day.

The main reason we didn’t push it is that we have a wedding weekend that we’re attending in Princeton, NJ (I’m typing this in the hotel at the moment), and we didn’t want to fall asleep during the rehearsal dinner. 🙂

Dave Mason at Blend

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Last night we saw Dave Mason play at Blend in Ridgewood, NJ.

Some things about last night were perfect, others far from it. Since I acquiesced to Lois when similar problems occurred at Canal Room in NYC (covered in this post), I’ll do it again, and cover the music (the perfect part!) first, so you can ignore all the peeves later on.

I have loved Dave Mason from the very start (I was a fan of Traffic, as well as the Dave Mason Band, forever). I still actively listen to both bands on my iPod. Lois doesn’t know Traffic, and until recently, didn’t know Dave Mason well either (though some of his stuff is so famous that she knew it, but didn’t know whose song it was).

When I noticed that Dave was playing at Blend (more details on that in the negative section), I played one of his albums for her in the car, so she too was excited to see them last night.

There are five guys in the band. I linked to the band section of the site above, rather than to the home page (which doesn’t seem to be particularly up-to-date). You can certainly read the bios on that site better than I can summarize them here, but I want to mention at least something about each member of the band.

In their order on the stage, left-to-right:

  • John (Johnne) Sambataro played both acoustic and electric guitars. He was fantastic. When it was his turn to wail, wail he did, leaving the crowd in a frenzy. But, he’s no hog, as he supported the entire band when that was more appropriate.
  • Bill Mason played the organ (electric piano). He was solid the entire night. On a few numbers, Dave turned it over to Bill for long solos. He was incredible on all of them. Like Johnne above, he brought down the house whenever the spotlight was on him.
  • Alvino Bennett played the drums. Super solid, perfect rhythm all night, just the right amount of flare. They never gave him a real solo, so I don’t know how he cooks when it’s all about him, but I have no doubt that he can cook. His sense of timing is exceptional. My only complaint is that he’s a little too unselfish, a little too the glue that keeps the band together. Suffice it to say, a great drummer!
  • Alex Drizos played bass. Basically, everything that I said about Alvino above regarding the drums applies to Alex on the bass. So solid it was wonderful to watch and feel the bass lines that he was laying down. Nothing flashy, ever, but always there to keep the bottom perfectly with the entire band.

Both Johnne and Alex sang incredible harmony with Dave all night. Bill sang on at least one number that I noticed, but certainly not many.

Here are photos of the band, sorry about the quality:

Johnne Sambataro and Bill MasonAlvino BennettAlex Drizos

On to the star, Dave Mason himself. I was a tad nervous going in for three reasons:

  1. Would he still have it? (If you recall, I briefly mentioned how awful the Jefferson Starship were in my uber-post on rediscovering live music.)
  2. Would he play the old big hits, or just do new stuff (and if the latter, was his new stuff any good)?
  3. Even if he played the old stuff, and even if he was flawless, would he play them the way I expected to hear them, or would he tinker too much?

I have definitive answers to all of my questions (and perhaps yours) coming up right now! 🙂

Dave Mason is awesome. That answers #1 above. His voice is excellent (as always), and he can hit the full range of notes required to make his hits come alive, which is not unimpressive, since there are some pretty high notes in a number those songs. Whew!

His fingers still fly on the guitar. He doesn’t miss any notes, and he’s as soulful on some of the leads, while rocking the house down on others. Quiet when appropriate, driving at other times. A master of the guitar. On a number of his big hits, he played a 12-string guitar, and the sound of that is just wonderful as well.

Here’s Dave on the 12 string guitar:

Dave Mason on the 12 string guitar

On to #2. The answer is both! He played quite a number of his giant hits, opening the show with World in Changes and Let It Go, Let if Flow. During the night, he also played All Along the Watchtower, Every Woman, We Just Disagree and a couple of other favorites. He also played the title cut from the first Traffic album!

But, I said both above! He also played new tunes that I have never heard. They were awesome! While I would have been wildly disappointed to not hear any of the oldies, I have to admit, if he only played new stuff, and it was as good as the (at least three) numbers that he played last night, I still would have considered the show to be fantastic!

Finally, #3 above. If you watch any TV, you may know the slogan for Simply Orange (it’s an orange juice company). Their slogan is: 100% Unfooled Around With! That should be Dave’s motto with regard to playing the crowd favorites. He couldn’t have delivered better. Whew! 🙂

Dave was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. That was based on his being part of Traffic. For my money, he could be inducted again, just for good measure, on the basis of his Dave Mason Band work, including his new stuff!

Two of his new numbers were played relatively early in the show, and both were electric numbers. Here’s a YouTube video of one of them (from a previous show, well done, but much cooler last night). He only plays a drop of guitar on that number (but still beautifully), and it doesn’t stretch his vocal capabilities, but it’s such a fun song! The catch-phrase line is: Ain’t Your Legs Tired Baby, ‘Cause You Keep On Runnin’ Through My Mind! 😉

As a group, they are extremely tight. No one ever overwhelms the others and the sound engineer keeps the relative volumes correct throughout. His name is Chris Curtis.

They played for 75 minutes, then left the stage (extremely briefly) for the obligatory encore. When they came back out it was just Dave and Johnne with acoustic guitars only. They played another new number that was gorgeous! Then the entire band rejoined, and they played Dave’s money song, Feelin’ Alright. They jammed it perfectly with Dave and Johnne playing lead guitars that reminded me of some of the great guitar duels performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Total time on stage was almost exactly 90 minutes. It left me with a strong taste for more, but it was completely satisfying at the same time! Bravo Dave, Johnne, Bill, Alvino and Alex, you were simply awesome!

They’re playing on April 4th, 2008 at BB King. I’m only telling you this because I just grabbed two tickets, so I’m no longer worried about him selling out (last night’s show was sold out). You are now forewarned that if you don’t go see Dave, you’re missing out on a great show! 😉

OK, this post is already long, but has only been positive. I have a ton of negative things to say about last night, and it won’t be short either, so this post will be horribly long when it’s all said and done. Please feel free to stop reading if you only want to bask in the glory that is the Dave Mason Band, as they were truly as good as it gets…

<Rant>

As you already know, last night turned into YAAWTEW (Yet Another All’s Well That Ends Well) evening. While I can’t complain about the end, and therefore the experience in its entirety, there is plenty to complain about along the way. 🙁

I had never heard of Blend before. They use at least two separate tickets agents, TicketWeb and Ticketmaster. I have accounts with both, and one of them must have shared my email with Blend. I don’t mind that. A month ago, I got an email from Blend promoting a specific show. I never heard of the band, and I didn’t particularly care to discover them (we have an insane schedule as it stands).

But, I quickly scoured the list of upcoming acts, and noticed that Dave Mason was playing there on March 6th, 2008! Wow, I thought that it would be cool if we could swing it. Unfortunately, at first blush, it wasn’t looking all that likely. We were scheduled to be in VA that day. It was also likely that we would be heading home that day, but I couldn’t be sure a month in advance, so I sat on the email, but left it visible in my inbox to annoyingly remind me each day.

After two weeks, we were about to leave for VA, and I realized that if we wanted to do it, we could swing it. I asked Lois. As noted above, she wasn’t really familiar with Dave’s music, but she’s a genius, and realized that I was more excited than a casual “Hey, do you want to see some band I used to listen to?”

She encouraged me to get tickets. As I noted in my recent post on Dan Tyminski Band at the Birchmere Theater, I get nervous going to new venues, in particular when they are first-come first-served type of places. If you read that post (or have ever been to a show at Birchmere!), then you know that my fears regarding Birchmere were 100% unfounded, as the place is nearly perfect in all respects!

What’s the opposite of Birchmere? Blend! 🙁

We called two weeks in advance, to ask some standard questions (OK, Lois called, at my request, to get my standard questions answered). 😉 She asked if they serve dinner, they said yes. She asked if it was in the room where the show was held, they said yes, but that they also serve dinner in a more formal dining room. Lois asked again (I heard it with my own ears!) whether we could eat in our seats in the theater where the show would be, and again, she was told yes.

She was told that the doors open at 7pm for the show. The rest of the rooms (bar and restaurant) open closer to 4pm I think, so if we showed up really early, we could eat first I think. But, we were planning on leaving from Zope, so we would be driving straight from VA, and likely getting there at around 6:30pm.

For many reasons, we decided to leave on Wed from VA and head home. We got out later than we had planned, and arrived home at 10pm. We worked all day and left for the show at around 5:45pm. We got to Blend at 6:25. I dropped Lois at the door so that she could pick up our tickets (they were held at Will Call) and get on line for the 7pm opening.

After circling to find parking, I walked in the front door at 6:35. Lois was nowhere to be found. I had to wait for a number of people to be seated in the restaurant (including Jay Gold, if you know who that is!). Then I got to ask about Lois. They had no idea who I was talking about, but told me I was welcome to walk around and look for her…

I did, and I spotted her in the restaurant sitting alone at a table. I was surprised, to say the least. She told me that they informed her at the door that they would not be serving in the show room. It was now 6:45. We were more interested in good seats than in dinner, but I was pretty hungry nonetheless. When the waitress came by to ask if we wanted drinks, we told her that we were still trying to decide what to do.

We made one mistake which I am truly sorry for, and that is that we stood the entire time. While we weren’t directly in anyone’s way, the mere fact that we didn’t sit at our table was already a distraction to the rest of the diners. It also caused more of the staff to pay attention to us (which part of the reason why we didn’t sit).

Another hostess came over to ask what the problem was. We explained, and she asked “Who told you that they would serve dinner downstairs?”. Huh? So, either we’re liars, or you’re going to spank the person who gave us the bad information? Either way, you aren’t close to solving the problem. We explained our situation again, and she said she needed to check further and left.

A minute later, the manager came by. We explained (again). He said “Of course they are serving dinner downstairs, you’re welcome to just eat there!”. Lois was satisfied, but I said “Great, but that’s not what the hostess said.” Oh oh. You could see him turn white as a ghost, and he immediately backtracked and said “Uh, wait, let me check.”

He left, and Lois left with him. A few minutes later, a woman named Lori (sp?) came over to talk to me. She was marginally prickly, but I could understand, as we were borderline causing a scene (just from the traffic at our table). I explained our situation (again). She said that there was no food being served downstairs, but that occasionally, they do, when there is no separate seating and standing areas.

I told her that we called and asked specifically for this show and were told that they would be serving. Clearly, she thought I was lying. Again, wonderful customer service. Now it got weird…

I told her that all we cared about was getting good seats downstairs. I told her that my wife wasn’t really that hungry, and that she was willing to wait on the line for the doors to open at 7pm, and that I would order and eat here at the table, problem solved!

Amazingly, she says to me “What makes you think the doors open at 7pm? The doors open whenever the artist, in this case Dave, is in the mood to play!” Huh? Did the person we called also get that part wrong? Are the show times as listed on the site just guesses? If the artist wants to start playing at 6:30pm is that OK too, or just late starts are acceptable? This was getting surreal.

At that moment, Lois returned, in a reasonable huff. That was unfortunate, because Lori clearly had a hair trigger as well, and Lois was as close to that mood as possible. She told me to go with her, that indeed they were serving food downstairs. Lori lost her cool. She said “Maam, I’m the owner, and I’m telling you that they aren’t serving food downstairs!”. Lois said “I was just down there, and people are eating, and the bartender told me that I was welcome to come in and order!”

The fireworks started for real now. Lori called someone else over and told them to go downstairs and make sure the door was locked! Very nice touch! She then explained that the food was being served to the band, not the public. When Lois again said that the bartender told her she could come and eat, Lori said that we were welcome to eat standing at the bar, but not until the doors opened for the public, which would be very uncomfortable.

When she saw how amazed we were to be treated this way (by an owner no less!), she offered to refund our money. We politely declined. We walked out of the restaurant, and went around the corner to a Quiznos. This was my first time in one, and I had a very nice Mesquite Chicken sandwich on toasted whole wheat. We were back in the place by 7:05pm!

We went downstairs to pick up our tickets. There were already roughly 20 people ahead of us crowding the door (which was indeed locked!). We were given green paper wristbands, signifying that we had seats (not specific ones, just that we were allowed to sit in a chair). Standing room only people had orange paper wristbands. We were crowded in like cattle, in a tiny area, waiting for the doors to open. People were piling down the stairs to get on the line. This couldn’t end well…

It got extremely hot down there. Lori showed up and announced that she would turn off the heat, and I think she did, but it didn’t get cool, it just stopped getting hotter. The doors didn’t open until nearly 7:35pm.

When we walked in, we saw that there were roughly eight or nine rows of chairs tightly packed together, and then open space from the last row to the door. We could have gotten aisle seats in the first few rows, but I grabbed two seats in the fourth row, dead center. So far, so good. The seats were hard plastic, and were reasonably uncomfortable to sit on for hours, but that was hardly the low point in the evening.

The temperature in the room was close to absolute zero! While I only had a T-Shirt on, I also (cleverly) declined to check my coat in the sauna area, so I was able to get comfortable quickly. A number of people commented to me that I was indeed a very smart guy to bring a parka-like coat to the show. 😉 Over the course of the evening, it got marginally warmer. I never took my coat off, but during the encore, I was mildly on the warm side…

So, I was prepared for the show to start late, after all, nothing in this place was as advertised, so why would I expect 8pm to be a firm time. A little to my surprise, someone came on the stage at 8:09, perhaps to announce Dave?

Nope. The person came on to announce an unlisted warm-up group. Well, group is a stretch. Two people, both locals that play in the upstairs bar at least twice a month. Nikki Armstrong and Dave Fields. Nikki is a blues singer, and Dave is blues singer/guitarist/producer.

Dave’s guitar (an acoustic one) wasn’t mic’ed correctly, so that delayed the show. While they were trying to sort that out, Nikki was freezing on the stage, and she was wearing a coat! They gave up (thankfully, reasonably quickly) and Dave switched to an electric guitar, which worked.

As I’ve mentioned before, not communicating effective and correctly with your customers is not a great strategy. These people were not listed on the site. Aside from the surprise angle, their music wasn’t a great match for an act like Dave either.

They played six songs. Most of the people that were seated were polite. We were quiet during the songs, and clapped after each one. The people who were standing completely ignored Nikki and Dave. They couldn’t have talked louder if you egged them on to try. Honestly, I can’t even blame them. No one came to see them, and there was nothing about their music which was compelling enough to grab our attention.

Basically, they have some talent (certainly tons more than I have, so who am I to talk?). But, they are more like a lounge act (in my opinion), that is expected to be there in the background, for some people to focus on a bit here and a bit there, but for others to continue to converse while the background music fills the room.

Dave plays the guitar respectably, but considering the string of simply amazing guitarists that we’ve seen in the past six months (Bill Cooley, Joe Don Rooney, Keith Urban, Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, Craig D’Andrea, etc. – all linked in the tags section of the post), it was a disappointment.

In general, it was a time-waster and a disappointment. Of course, at that point, we were wondering whether this was just par for the course for Blend, and whether we should have taken the refund. The show was sold out, so offering us the refund wasn’t all that generous (it certainly was offered with derision, not apology), because Lori could have sold those tickets five seconds later.

They left the stage at 8:45pm. I assumed that Dave would be on at 9pm. All of the equipment was already fully set up. Wrong again. They came on the stage at 9:12pm.

You already know that from that second onwards, it was a perfect evening. Of course, we didn’t get home until 11:30pm (yup, we’re old folk, so that’s late), when we could have been home by 10:30 if they had put Dave on at 8pm…

The only good news (not counting the concert itself) about Blend is that they didn’t get a dime of our money, even though we started out wanting to support the place. We wanted to have dinner there, but I ended up eating at Quiznos. I wanted to drink there, but ended up happily passing (even though waitresses were serving people drinks from the bar at the seats). I simply was happy not to give them any more of my money, even if it meant missing out on a chocolate martini. 😉

</rant>

Congratulations

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First and foremost, the heartiest possible congratulations to our goddaughter and her fiance on their Valentine’s Day engagement! (I just learned something in checking the spelling of the word finace! With one “e” at the end, it’s the male in the engagement, with two e’s at the end, it’s the female. Who knew? Not me!)

We couldn’t be happier for both of them, each of them is lucky (and perceptive and smart!) to have found the other!

Even happier (for us, on a selfish level) is the fact that they are both moving to NYC this summer (right after their wedding) and they will be living in the same building that we’re in. We promise not to intrude too much, but we’re really looking forward to having them in our lives whenever they don’t mind the company. 😉

Let me finish up with a small world, six degrees kind of story. If you’re a regular reader, then you know that we just saw Keith Urban at MSG the day before Valentine’s Day. I wrote about that concert here.

Over the years, we have gotten very friendly with quite a number of our godchildren’s friends, and have hosted them in NYC many times. One of those couples visited us this past December, and our goddaughter came up for that weekend as well (I blogged about that weekend three times, including a photo of all of us, here, here and here). We (but Lois in particular) communicate frequently with this couple. We had a few back-and-forths over the past few days with them, including communicating about our new Keith Urban fan status.

The couple is on a road trip this weekend, and in the car, they were listening to Keith’s latest (non-greatest-hits) CD (Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing, released in November 2006). When they heard the first song on the album, Once In a Lifetime Love, they immediately thought of our goddaughter and her engagement news, and wanted her to listen to that song, now!

They wrote to Lois, and explained that they were in the car, and couldn’t easily send the song along, and could we figure out a way to get her the song. We don’t have that CD (yet), so we couldn’t send it along directly either. Even if we did, we don’t share copies of our music, we just buy another copy and give it as a gift.

So, the obvious choice was to tell our goddaughter to purchase the song on iTunes and we’d pay for it. But, that didn’t feel fun or fresh. So, instead, following the advice I laid out in this post, more specifically, something mentioned in the comments to that post, I sent them all an email with the following instructions.

I told her to create a free account on imeem. Then, I sent her this link to the song that her friends wanted to share with her. It worked out perfectly, and our goddaughter confirmed that she got to listen to the song. Of course, now she’s free to buy it, or we can gift it to her, etc., but the instant connection/gratification of all of us collaborating to share the spirit of that song with the newly engaged couple, was fun and satisfying.

Here is a video of Keith talking about that song, and playing a bit of it, linked directly on the home page of his site.

Once again, CONGRATULATIONS! 🙂

Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood at Madison Square Garden

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Lois and I have never watched a complete episode of American Idol, and the only time we’ve even seen a reasonable portion of one was at our godson’s apartment, the night that Jordin Sparks won.

So, we didn’t know Carrie Underwood from that show (though, of course, we knew of her). We fell in love with her when she released her first CD, and have loved pretty much everything she has done since then as well.

When I saw that she was opening for Keith Urban at Madison Square Garden (MSG), I grabbed two tickets for us, a while ago. We aren’t all that familiar with Keith’s music (though we obviously hear his more popular stuff on the Country channel on XM Radio). We figured that at best, it would end up being a bonus like Kenny Chesney was (when we really went to see Pat Green and Sugarland!), and at worst, we’d know to avoid Keith in the future.

I wrote about that night here, and as you can see (or already know), we were blown away by Kenny’s performance. 🙂

We were both marginally surprised that Carrie opens for Keith. She couldn’t be much bigger on her own, winning award after award, and selling CDs like crazy.

Last night’s show was scheduled to begin at 7:30pm. As I’ve written a number of times before, MSG usually runs like an on-time train. It’s a pleasure to know in advance that you won’t be sitting around for hours wondering when the show is going to start.

Oh well, the best laid plans… Last night was a wild exception to the norm. At 7:35pm (already five minutes late, no biggie yet) they put up a very big screen, with a digital timer on it, counting down from five minutes. You could feel the excitement in the crowd, as people focused on the counter. So, the show would only be 10 minutes late, but, you had five minutes warning, so, not too bad.

When the clock hit 10 seconds left, people started to clap and get really excited. When it hit zero, the lights went out. Typically, the music would start (in the dark), almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, nothing, for more than 30 seconds. A few minutes later, some yellow lights above the stage came on, but were facing out toward the crowd. It was masking the stage, so perhaps this was part of the show.

Nope. A few seconds later, the normal background music (from the speakers, not the stage) started up. No way the show was about to start. A few minutes later, the rest of the house lights came back on. No announcement, which was very disappointing. Then the digital timer came back on with five minutes again. Much less excitement in the crowd this time, as most people ignored it.

This time, the crowd waited until the countdown was at five seconds before starting to clap and cheer. When the lights went off this time, indeed, the music started in the dark, a few seconds later. When the stage lights came on, Carrie wasn’t there yet. As you started to hear her voice, they started showing videos on the very large screen behind the stage. Intermixed with desert scenes (including snakes), were snippets of Carrie, looking like she was walking through the video onto the stage. It was strange, but sort-of cool too.

Instead of her magically appearing from the video screen, after a bit, she emerged front and center stage, rising slowly from underneath. The crowd ate it up.

Let’s get the mundane out of the way. Carrie Underwood is stunningly beautiful. Of course, if you didn’t know that already, then you don’t own a TV, have never glanced at the cover of a magazine even casually, or have very strange taste. 😉

(As with all the photos in the this blog, click on any one of them to see a larger version):

Carrie Underwood on the RunwayCarrie Underwood on the Runway 2

Carrie has an exceptional voice (duh, that’s probably true of most Female Vocalist of the Year winners). Her songs are really good as well, and the selection last night was excellent. Her band is obviously top notch as well. All that said, with the lousy acoustics (in general) at MSG, she wasn’t the best fit for the arena. Don’t get me wrong, her talent was obvious to everyone there. In addition, Lois believes that Carrie was working through a cold (and I think she’s right).

One of the problems (acoustically) is that Carrie’s voice is loud, clear and she hits lots of very high notes as well (with lots of power!). At MSG, it was simply piercing. Not her fault, as hitting the notes is exactly what she’s supposed to do. Still, it was on the painful side at times, not just because of the volume.

She has great stage presence, but even though the crowd loved her, it wasn’t the same energy (not even close) that we’ve seen with other performers at MSG. I was very surprised.

One thing that was very different from all other opening acts that we’ve seen at MSG (and most other places), was the staging. Normally, the opening act does everything in as muted a fashion as possible, in order to avoid any upstaging of the main act. Since Carrie is a legitimate headliner (in my opinion at least), she had way more glitz than any other opening act we’ve seen before.

There were two floating screens on either side of the stage, tall and thin, that mostly showed her live, so that people sitting far away (like us) could see her up close and personal. Behind the stage, where the counter had been, was a large screen showing videos in the background. She also changed her outfit four times, making five separate outfits during her show.

To recap, she came on at 7:50pm and played for exactly one hour. She then came back for a very nice encore, going off the stage at exactly 9pm. So, she was on for 70 minutes in total, after the 20 minute delayed start.

There was a 30 minute intermission, while they prepared the stage for Keith Urban. For the first time ever (in our personal experience), the effort was entirely visible to the crowd. Usually, they hang a very large black cloth to cover up all of the activity.

While we were killing time, we were chatting about how great Carrie was, but how horrible it was to see her at MSG (she really belongs at Radio City Music Hall, which would complement her strength amazingly well!). Lois said “I’m done with MSG, this is the last time I want to see a concert here.” I completely understood her feelings, but felt bad that certain acts would be shut off to us (e.g., Rascal Flatts).

At exactly 9:30pm, the lights went off, and the mood in the crowd changed dramatically. The second the first note on the guitar was heard, a bunch of people starting standing and going crazy (that didn’t happen for Carrie at all), unfortunately, including the two women sitting in front of us…

I won’t be able to do justice to the slick way they used the giant video screen behind the stage to introduce the first song, but trust me, the effect was mesmerizing, creative, and very cool.

When they finally lit up the stage, and Keith (and the band) were all out there (rocking their hearts out!), the crowd was in a complete frenzy. I was pretty sure it would be just like the Kenny Chesney show, but I was wrong. 😉

Kenny’s show is a party, and he’s the guest of honor. He loves his fans, and it couldn’t be clearer, but it’s not really about the music (at least, not the one show that I was at). The music that night was great, and his band is exceptional, but it still isn’t/wasn’t about the music (to me).

That’s different with Keith Urban. In addition to the reason I mentioned above, about wanting primarily to see Carrie, I was curious about Keith, because my godson saw him two years ago in Washington, DC, and told me that he puts on a great show, and that he’s an incredible guitarist. So, I was definitely curious.

Props to my godson, as he was correct on both scores. Without a doubt, Keith Urban is one of the greatest entertainers I have ever seen.

Let’s start with something I really can’t explain. He (and his band, obviously) pretty much overcame the horrible acoustics at MSG as best as can be expected. There’s something about their sound that works in that place. As nuts as we are for Rascal Flatts, they did not overcome the problems, but we loved them despite that. Some part of it has to be the emotional connection with Keith. You are so sucked in, you aren’t distracted by the acoustics.

Perhaps the most brilliant touch last night was the simplicity of the staging. Both Kenny and Rascal Flatts had amazing technical displays, and wonderful uses of them. Still, on some level, they are a distraction from the band, and the music.

Keith had a giant screen behind the stage. For all but two or three numbers, it showed the live action on the stage (of course, mostly Keith himself). For a venue like MSG, it made all the difference in the world. Now, no matter where you are sitting, you see him (or whomever else they are highlighting) larger than life, including every facial expression, and guitar lick. It was fantastic.

Keith Urban on the Big Screen

I mentioned facial expressions because there is such a warmth and sweetness about him that is completely infectious (in fact, that’s true of the majority of his band as well), and if you weren’t in the first few rows, you wouldn’t connect to that unless they projected it so clearly.

Most of the repertoire last night was driving hard rock. It probably qualified as Country (for the most part) because of the themes and harmonies, but from a musical point of view, hard rock it was. But, he’s a very talented and varied musician, and he switched gears a number of times, including a few acoustic guitar numbers, and at least two numbers with him playing piano!

He has an excellent voice (I hadn’t appreciated that as much before last night), which somehow, wasn’t ruined by MSG either.

Here’s another example of simplicity. As I mentioned in this post (and showed photos as well), Rascal Flatts did some cool numbers on a rotating center stage, that had a special bridge which was raised and lowered at various times to give them access. It was way cool. Last night, Keith had a circular center stage as well, but there was a permanent runway connecting the two, and he used the runway effortlessly, all night.

Keith Urban AloneKeith Urban on the Runway and Big Screen

During one set, the core members of the band (six I believe) were on the center stage, and it was a little mellower, closer to us, and amazing!

Keith Urban on the Circular Stage

While the entire band was superb, I feel the need to specifically call out the drummer, Chris McHugh. I had never heard the name before, but obviously, I’ve heard him before. If you look at the page I linked to, I own at least four of the albums he’s played on, and I saw the movie Cars as well. I don’t know how he finds the time to eat given how much studio work he puts in, but he’s so amazing, that I understand why all of these superstars want him!

Keith Urban with Chris McHugh

Two final examples of Keith connecting with the crowd. Toward the end of the show, he walked off the stage into the crowd. Not just a few feet, but way into the crowd, and then up into the stands! Of course, he was mobbed by back-slappers, etc., and yet never missed a beat of playing his guitar, or singing. (I’m not sure Nicole Kidman should see this next photo.) 😉

Keith Urban in the Crowd

Then, when he was jamming with one particular group of people, he took off the guitar, took a marker from one of his helpers, signed the guitar, and gave it to a couple. Because of the giant screen, we could see every nuance of the gesture. The woman looked like she died and went to heaven. Keith continued to sing, ran back to the stage, grabbed another guitar, and rocked out the rest of the song on the runway.

The second example will have to wait so it can be delivered in the correct order. 🙂

Keith played for 100 minutes before saying goodnight. That alone is longer than most acts play, especially when the opening act plays for 70 minutes! In addition, the energy level they all put out (but him in particular!) was so high, that keeping it up for that long can’t be easy. So, when the lights went out, Lois said: “Surely, he isn’t coming out for an encore, right?”

I laughed, and said: “No way he doesn’t come back out!”

He did, for a solo on the piano, in a beautifully moving song that he sang for his wife, as a Valentine’s Day tribute (she’s apparently back home in Australia at the moment). Then the entire band joined him, and they did at least three more numbers. The encore lasted 20 minutes (sweet!), so that he was on for a total of two hours, which put the end at 11:30pm!

Keith Urban on the Piano

Near the very end of the show, they set off a number of confetti canons simultaneously. Here’s a fuzzy shot (larger than the rest) to give you a sense of the mayhem. 😉

Keith Urban Confetti

After the show, nearly every single one we’ve ever been to, the lights go out, and the artist is gone (after the encore that is). The house lights then quickly come up, indicating to the audience that they should get out! 😉

Last night, when the encore was over, the lights never went off. After the band collected together in front of the stage to take a group bow, they all stuck around and kept thanking the crowd. Then, even when the rest of the band was long gone, Keith kept walking around the stage and the runway, and thanking every section that was still around. There was no way we could even consider leaving before him.

It was very moving for both of us. There was a humility to his actions that was overwhelming.

So, I have no idea whether we’ll ever be back at MSG for a concert or not, but we’re not likely to be able to duplicate this experience without seeing this type of crowd interaction, on this scale.

Did I love it? Absolutely! Am I a Keith Urban fan now? Yes, at least for his live performances. I’m not really sure I’ll run out and buy his CDs, but I might. Do I prefer him (specifically, this show!) to Girlyman or The Wailin’ Jennys? (not just another gratuitous plug) 😉 Definitively, no!

There is an intimacy that comes with seeing people like Girlyman and The Jennys in a small venue that can’t be described accurately to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Aside from that, I actually prefer (reasonably strongly) the music and lyrics that both of those groups create to the more general Country music songs (which I love as well, but not as much, and differently).

That said, I am still amazed/impressed by how close Keith got to creating a sense of intimacy in a cavernous place like MSG.