Kevin Rice

The Paper Raincoat at Mercury Lounge

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Last night was our second time at Mercury Lounge. We went to see the same group that brought us there the first time, The Paper Raincoat.

No matter how many times we see the same groups, each show has it’s own character, making it worth coming out for reasons other than simply supporting great talent (though that alone is a worthy enough reason!).

The last few times that we saw The Paper Raincoat (TPR), they had a violin, viola and bass accompanying them. Last night, they were back to the original configuration that we originally saw them in (way back in April 2009), Alex Wong, ambeR Rubarth and a drummer (last night it was Kevin Rice, but that first time was Adam Christgau).

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We love the strings (Melissa Tong and David Fallo) and Tony Maceli on the bass. I look forward to a TPR show with them all as soon as possible, but still, there was a tingle to get back to the core sound that we originally fell in love with.

TPR was one of four bands on the bill (third in the lineup), so their set was slightly shorter than usual (around 40 minutes). They had an excellent set selection so we didn’t feel let down by the length.

SetList

At least 1/2 of the very large audience was there to see the headliner, The Do, so they were experiencing TPR for the first time. From our center vantage point, they liked TPR plenty.

Kevin Rice was extraordinary (not that he’s ever less than amazing). On Sympathetic Vibrations, Alex had a particularly long introduction (which was cool in itself) and Kevin was wailing a rock-steady beat throughout. My arms hurt just watching him, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of him either.

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That was hardly the extent of his incredible drumming. In addition, they played It All Depends, where they often end it with Alex, Kevin and ambeR all drumming at the same time (heavenly). Last night, Alex spotted Danny Molad in the audience. He’s the drummer for Elizabeth and the Catapult. Alex coaxed Danny onto the stage, so It All Depends ended with four people sharing one drum set. Hazzah!

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Alex and ambeR also played Right Angles. We’ve seen them play it before, with both on a grand piano at the same time, but it was tucked away in the corner of Rockwood, so you only see them sitting together. Last night they played it on the electric keyboard, with their hands flying up and down the keys simultaneously, right in front of us. Awesome!

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So, how did I know that 1/2 the audience was new to TPR? They closed with their signature a cappella Rewind. When they start the awesome cross-hand-clapping, 1/2 the audience laughed (gleefully). That happens to everyone the first time they see TPR do it. After that, you anxiously look forward it, but don’t laugh out loud. 🙂

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We only stayed for 1.5 songs of The Do. Not my taste (plus it was late for us). But, to give them their proper due, as crowded as it was for TPR, I can’t believe how many more people jammed into Mercury Lounge for The Do. They have a huge, loyal and adoring set of fans. I’m sure those people thought we were crazy for leaving, but they had to be happy to have the extra space. 😉

Now that I’ve been to Mercury Lounge twice, I can definitively say I’m not a fan (I’ll go again without hesitation, but I won’t look forward to the venue part of the evening). Standing is only one negative for us. The bigger one is the sound system and engineering there (only two data points, I know) is way below the quality we’re used to at over a dozen other venues. C’est la vie…

The Paper Raincoat at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Q: What word describes the following situation? You’re old and exhausted and one of your favorite bands schedules a show at 6pm!

A: Perfect! 🙂

That’s exactly what happened last night. The Paper Raincoat played a show at 6pm at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. The only worry in our minds (possibly in theirs too) was whether people would show up that early. No need to worry folks, the place was packed to the teeth with people spilling out the door. Of course, we got there very early and snagged the two seats at center stage.

I know that most of the people who read this blog know about The Paper Raincoat (TPR) already, but for the Google robot out there, it’s a duo comprised of ambeR Rubarth and Alex Wong, each tremendous talents in their own right, that prove (yet again) that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts!

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Alex joked a number of times that they were playing the Happy Hour show. As Ken Rockwood himself joked back: “Every hour is Happy Hour at Rockwood!”. 😉

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They played a nine-song set (not including the encore). If you’re a fan, you’ll know how good a selection it was. Either way, let me assure you that it was extremely well received by the audience.

SetList

To give you a sense of how unusual the scene was, ambeR lost her place in Sympathetic Vibrations for a second. She always nails that one (though I won’t be able to say always any longer) 😉 and she explained that seeing so many people jammed into Rockwood that early distracted her. I don’t doubt that!

When they started Sympathetic Vibrations, Alex turned to the crowd and said: “You know your part.” We did. We (everyone, not just Lois and me) clapped our part perfectly, loudly, in unison. ambeR recovered from her momentary lapse by joking that at least we knew our part. 😉

When Alex introduced January, he explained that it should be thought about from the perspective of an older drunk guy. To ensure that we really understood that, three members of the band (I’ll cover each individually shortly) switched places, ensuring that they were no longer superstars on their respective instruments. It was fresh and fun. ambeR played the drums. She’s tweeted that she’s practicing but I didn’t expect to see the result so soon.

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On Right Angles both Alex and ambeR played on the grand piano at the same time:

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On It All Depends, they ended with their signature drumming extravaganza. First, they warmed it up by getting the audience to clap in a fast and steady beat. Then Alex joined Kevin with the two of them drumming together, with the audience never missing a beat. Then ambeR joined them with all three drumming on the same drum set (well, to be honest, Alex had a snare a little off to Kevin’s left). It was as awesome as it always is, perhaps a drop more.

Both Alex and ambeR play a number of instruments. At times, Alex plays multiple ones simultaneously:

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Closing the show (not the encore) with Rewind, ambeR, Alex and Kevin were awesome. The only thing that differentiates some previous TPR shows is that when Adam Christgau does Rewind, he also sings, making it three-part harmony at some points. Kevin doesn’t sing, but the three of them still make live magic every time they perform this song.

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ambeR and Alex returned to thunderous applause for an encore without the band. They played In the Creases, a song they co-wrote before TPR existed. We love the song. Lois felt it was the best rendition she had heard. I loved it, but I doubt I’ll ever experience it like I did at Joe’s Pub for ambeR’s CD release party, when Vienna Teng sang three-part harmony with them, and Katie Scheele played the oboe, and a full band supported them (including Vienna on the grand piano).

On to the wonderful band:

Kevin Rice on drums. Kevin was the original drummer for TPR, though for the first few shows that we saw them, Adam Christgau was their drummer. Kevin is awesome (as is Adam!) and many of the TPR songs allow great drummers to stretch a bit. The beat is such an integral part of the songs and Kevin never disappoints. For January, Kevin switched to the electric bass. He did a very nice job.

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Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony was great all night (as he always is). He’s a lot more understated than a number of the bassists we’ve seen recently, but that’s one of the things that makes him a great match for a lot of groups, his bottom is there for them, without Tony (or his riffs) becoming a distraction to their music. For January, Tony took ambeR’s place. He played the electric keyboards with his left hand, and the trumpet with his right! Bravo Tony!

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Melissa Tong on violin. Melissa always delights us and last night was no exception. Many groups add strings to their CD’s without ever using them live. TPR (and ambeR and Alex individually) often have strings on stage, creating the same huge, rich sound that they deliver in studio. While Melissa (and David, up next) were excellent throughout, they were really brought to the forefront in the opening of Right Angles, which is mostly strings for the first 45 seconds. Gorgeous!

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David Fallo on viola. David is wonderful on the viola. In addition to playing on all the numbers that Melissa played on, David also played on one that Melissa sat out. Everything that I said above about Melissa, in particular about Right Angles, applies equally to David!

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I already mentioned that we grabbed the two seats front and center. Joining us at our table were three very interesting people that we hadn’t met before, but had shared a number of shows together. Getting to know them before the show started made the time fly (another advantage of getting there early) and we look forward to seeing them at many shows in the future!

Here’s hoping that when we get even older, and NYC kicks us out and forces us to move to Florida, that TPR will show up and play a 3pm show for us while we grab our early-bird dinner special. 😉

Alex Wong at Caffe Vivaldi

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After seeing Alex Wong perform a cameo appearance at ambeR Rubarth’s Rockwood Music Hall show, we ran over to Caffe Vivaldi to catch Alex performing his own show!

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The last time we saw Alex he played mostly solo (Adam Levy joined him for a song or two). This time, Alex was supported by some of the best musicians in NYC, though he did perform at least one song solo.

That song was In the Creases [Update: I’ve been told by two people that I am wrong, that Ward Williams joined Alex on this song, so I’m sure I am incorrect. Apologies!], the same song he performed earlier with ambeR at Rockwood. Very cool contrast. There (as mentioned in this post) he sang while ambeR played the guitar. Here, he played and sang by himself, creating a completely different feel to the song.

Alex has a wide selection of songs to choose from, his own repertoire, songs he wrote as part of The Animators, songs he co-wrote with ambeR and The Paper Raincoat songs.

Joining Alex in various combinations were:

Melissa Tong on violin. Always a delight, as a person and as a musician.

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Ward Williams on cello. Ward’s performances are always top-notch, and last night was no exception. In fact, he accompanied Alex alone on one song and played lead on the cello replacing ambeR’s missing vocals from a Paper Raincoat song. Extremely well done.

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Kevin Rice on a snare drum (Caffe Vivaldi is too small for a full drum set, at least with last night’s setup). Kevin always does a great job, even though he was constrained last night.

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Martin Rivas sat in on one number, playing acoustic guitar and singing harmony. His guitar play was outstanding, as was his voice. It reminded me that I hadn’t gotten around to snagging his new EP, so I asked Lois to buy it from him after the show. Can’t wait to catch a full Martin set asap.

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Candace Chien played the grand piano accompanying Alex on his last number (Help is on the Way). Sorry, I can’t find a good individual link for Candace. Candace is a classical pianist and this was her first non-classical public performance. She nailed it and we hope to see and hear more of her in the future. Everyone at the Caffe sang along with Alex on the repeating chorus (just like we did when he closed the Haiti benefit with this number).

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Even though we stayed up way past our bedtime, it was a ton of fun to see all of these wonderful people/performers do such an intimate show.

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We’ve never been to Caffe Vivaldi before (it’s in the West Village) and it won’t be our last time. To make sure I’d want to come back, I forced myself to have a piece of Carrot Cake and a Latte. The things I do for the love of music… 😉

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at Joe’s Pub

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We got the briefest taste of Vienna Teng a few months ago when she was a guest performer at ambeR Rubarth’s CD Release Party, also at Joe’s Pub. The minute Vienna announced last night’s show we grabbed tickets (more on that later).

Alex Wong is well-known to us and I’ve written about him a number of times already (most often for his work in The Paper Raincoat).

Since this will likely get long (Hadar, do you ever write anything short and sweet?), I’ll spare those of you with little patience and give you the bottom line:

Vienna Teng is now officially on our stalkerazi list!

English translation: we will be following her around and trying to attend as many shows as possible. We’ll also be buying the rest of her CDs (we only own the most recent one, Inland Territory, which is awesome!).

Vienna is an all-around talent that can mesmerize on any individual level. Her piano playing is among the best we’ve seen live. If that’s all she did, we would still go see her often.

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Her voice? Extraordinary! Clarity, range, power, emotional conveyance, variety, the works! If she sang a capella all night, we would still go see her often.

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Songwriting? Exceptional! Deep, thoughtful lyrics. Wide range of topics. If she wasn’t a great musician, and didn’t sing so beautifully, we would still go to see her often for the quality of her songwriting.

Stage Presence? Wonderful! Vienna is warm and engaging, and comes across as natural as you could want from a performer. Her banter with Alex is excellent as well. She’s a natural story-teller. If all she did was tell stories, we would still go to see her often.

She’s working hard to master the guitar. I have little doubt that when she feels ready to perform in public, we’ll feel as graced as we do by her piano playing.

She’s beautiful too (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). 😉

Alex Wong is master of all music. He does a bit of everything as part of The Paper Raincoat (guitar, percussion, glockenspiel, keyboards, vocals, songwriting), so it would have been hard for him to surprise us last night.

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When he plays with Vienna, he’s mostly a percussionist/drummer (superb), though he did play the guitar on at least two numbers. Of course, he sings beautiful harmonies with Vienna, but he takes more of a back seat than he does with ambeR and The Paper Raincoat.

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Ward Williams joined them for three songs, playing both cello and electric guitar (singing on one of those numbers).

Kevin Rice joined during the encore to play a snare drum, making for two drummers on the one song. It was a great sound. After the show, Alex told me that Kevin was the original drummer with The Paper Raincoat.

While there were never more than three people on the stage at the same time, they create a much larger sound. Both Vienna and Alex, independently, use loop machines to do that.

In the very first song, after Vienna sang one verse, she looped her voice back and sang stunning harmony with herself! Alex did similar things with the drums, laying down an intricate beat, then looping it and playing/dancing in and around that beat. Vienna also did that with the piano on occasion, altering it to a more electronica type sound, then accompanying that with a normal piano sound which she played live. Excellent, all around.

Last night was one of four shows that will be used to create a new Live CD. We can’t wait to buy it. 🙂

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That’s the end of what I have to say about the show, but nowhere near the end of what I have to say about the evening. So, take another sip of coffee, take a deep breath, and settle in for the more personal aspects that made for a special evening last night. 🙂

I’ve written a couple of times about our serendipitous discovery of The Paper Raincoat (originally covered here). That started a chain of events which has caused us to discover a number of amazing NY-based musicians, a few of whom have become friends in addition to people we enjoy seeing perform.

We can now safely add Vienna as one such musician/performer, and hopefully, after stalking her a bit more, a friend too. 😉

The glue in this new chain is a superb singer/songwriter/keyboard player in his own right, Alex Berger. I connected with him when he put up a video of ambeR, Alex Wong and Vienna performing In the Creases at Joe’s Pub (that first time we saw Vienna). I started following Alex on Twitter (@bergeralex) and the rest is history.

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Through Alex, we discovered a dozen artists that we really like. One of them is the incredibly talented Amy Rivard. We invited Amy, along with two other friends (both of whom are Broadway musicians) to join us for the show last night, and the five of us had a wonderful time (and a wonderful meal) together.

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Amy was kind enough to agree to sing on my Tonight Show Tribute song/video collaboration with another amazing keyboardist, Ben Schwartz. Here’s a link to the YouTube Video.

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Alex Berger was at the show last night as well, and we were really happy to catch up with him afterward. Run and pre-order his upcoming CD (we are honored to have been the first people to pre-order). The brilliant Alex Wong produced Alex Berger’s CD!

Looping back to my comment about buying tickets for this show, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs talking about the difficulty and opportunities in the music business, using last night’s show as the spark and one specific example.

The best part of the current situation in the music world is that anyone (literally) can get heard. You can make reasonable quality recordings pretty cheaply and even get your music distributed for free. For more money (and time), but still much less than in the past, you can produce stunning quality recordings.

The worst part of the current situation is that while you can get your stuff out there, how do you build an audience to listen to it, let alone even find it. The signal-to-noise ratio is very low.

Obviously, not all (or even most) of the people who would like to make a living as musicians deserve to. But, the number who deserve to is still staggeringly large compared to the number who actually achieve that.

If you have major talent, the only reliable way to grind out a living (and it’s a huge grind, no matter how much you enjoy performing) is to tour a ton. It’s important to be creative, both to build a loyal following and to maximize their financial support toward your livelihood.

This is another area where The Paper Raincoat (and ambeR individually) and Vienna Teng have impressed us (and therefore have gotten our additional financial support).

In the case of ambeR’s new CD and The Paper Raincoat’s new CD (both superb efforts!), they offered multiple levels of pre-ordering, with each level delivering something additional and special to thank you for your patronage. It wasn’t just stuff (which would have been good enough), but generally had a creative flair, a personal touch, or something otherwise special as well.

I’ve posted photos in a previous entry, but in ambeR’s case, she hand-made boxes to house the pre-ordered CDs. The Paper Raincoat (at the highest level), included T-Shirts, Posters and a 4GB USB bracelet. The USB device had 330MB of goodies on it. Videos from a live show, a video thank you and a video of a practical joke.

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More amazingly (to me) was their inclusion of all of the songs on the CD as instrumentals. For those of us who love to sing along to their songs, we can do so without being distracted by them! Can you say Karaoke Party? 😉

Both Paper Raincoat and ambeR sent download links to the full CD the minute it was available, to anyone who pre-ordered. That put their music in the fans hands long before the physical CD packaging was done and available. Again, a very classy touch!

All three (ambeR, The Paper Raincoat and Vienna Teng) have used the amazing artist Diana Ho to produce artwork (for the posters and/or CD covers).

So, what did Vienna do last night to give more value, and get rewarded for it (both in loyalty and in dollars)? She offered a VIP package for the late show (she played two sets at Joe’s Pub last night).

The VIP package included a bunch of goodies, but I think the real hook was a private dessert and coffee get-together with Vienna and Alex after the show. Only 30 VIP tickets were offered. We grabbed two the second we saw Vienna’s Tweet (another reason to follow the artists you like!). The next morning, all 30 VIP packages were sold out!

Here are their Twitter addresses:

@viennateng (obvious)

@highceilings (not as obvious, Alex Wong)

@ambeRRubarth (obvious)

@paper_raincoat (you get it by now…)

After the show, we hung around and talked to a bunch of people.

AmyCoxViennasManager JordanBurgerViennasBookingAgent

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We even got to play Roadies a bit, carrying out some equipment to their van after the schmoozing was done. But in a surprise to all involved (Lois and I included), we realized that it would be imprudent to push the night as late as we had the night before, so we ended up not joining the after-show festivities.

Did we feel cheated? Did we feel like we over-spent on the VIP package? Not even for a second! We were thrilled to have supported Vienna and Alex, and to have had the choice to go if we hadn’t been so tired.

We spent today listening to Vienna’s music. The CD we own, her website (which has a button to play Radio VT on the home page), and listening to some live shows in the Internet Archive site. We loved every second of it. 🙂

P.S. As if I needed any additional reason to want to hang out with Vienna, but she appeals to the geek in me as well. She worked as a programmer at Cisco for two years before turning to a career in music. So, I could find things to talk about with her beyond our current obsession with live music…