Lissa Farquhar

John Schmitt at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Last Friday, John Schmitt had a Birthday show at The Living Room. At that show he announced that his first show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 would be the following Thursday (last night). Of course, it immediately went on our calendar. Last night’s show was just as much fun as the Birthday one, with different guests (and one change in the band as well).

Since I’ve written about John many times, I’ll spare the regulars the intro, but I encourage all others to read the write-up on the Birthday show (linked above) and then continue here.

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In addition to playing a bunch of his beloved songs, John broke out a brand new one. The song was written for a documentary called The Green Horns. It was the fourth song in a row he sang with one of his guests.

Lissa Farquhar has been a regular singing partner with John for months now, but she was unable to attend the Birthday show. I really like Lissa’s voice, but I do have a complaint/suggestion.

LissaFarquhar

On the harmonies, Lissa put a reasonable amount of power to match John’s volume and the two of them sounded wonderful together. Last night, her leads were way more delicate. I couldn’t tell why she was holding back. At first I thought it was a stylistic choice. Then I thought she might have a cold. Then I thought perhaps she was being deferential to John. Either way, I preferred her pumping it up the way she did the first time we saw her.

Before singing the Green Horns song (Rise Today), they sang Ave Regina and Going Back (Lissa also sang on Ophelia, but there’s simply not enough harmony arranged on that song). Two fabulous songs that are greatly enhanced by the harmonies. On Friday, John sang Ave Regina solo. It was beautiful, no doubt, but I’ll take the duet if I have a choice, thank you very much. Smile

JohnScmittLissaFarquhar

Alec Gross was the other special guest. He played harmonica on two songs, extremely well. On Ave Regina, it was the only instrument besides John’s acoustic guitar (the band took only that one song off). He wailed on Day in the Life right before that.

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Alec just had a CD release party on Saturday night (there is some video up on his YouTube channel).

The band, left-to-right on stage:

Eddie Wiernik on grand piano and electronic keyboards. Eddie was a fill-in on Friday. By my count, that makes two rehearsals and two shows now. I had only high praise for Eddie on Friday night. That said, it was crystal clear, seconds into the first song of the night, that Eddie was way more comfortable with the music and the band.

EddieWiernik

He opened up his play more and John highlighted him even more (he took a number of very tasty solos, both on the piano and the more organ-sounding electronic keyboards). It will interesting to see what John does if/when Greg Barbone becomes available again. Both Eddie and Greg are great, so John can’t lose, unless they both get mad at him. Winking smile

Mike Sutton on drums. I mentioned on Friday that my respect for Mike grew that night. Let’s call it a trend, since I was even more impressed last night. His play on Musical and Valerie (in particular) was great. Don’t slight the subtler play on numbers like Ophelia, where the drums are vital in creating the correct mood.

MikeSutton

Brian Killeen on electric bass. We love Brian and see him often. He was filling in for John’s regular bass player, Pasquale Chieffalo. Both are good fits for John’s music, so I didn’t feel a drop-off in having Brian sit in. At the end of Musical, they did a jazz jam, with Eddie leading on keys, but Brian was tearing it up on the bass and Mike was keeping up on the drums. It was a thing of beauty.

BrianKilleen

Here’s the complete set list:

SetList

Right before the show we met John’s girlfriend, Lucy. In addition to being nice and smart, independent of her real career, she’s also a talented designer. She created John’s business card:

JohnSchmittBusinessCardFrontJohnSchmittBusinessCardBack

We sat with her during the show and look forward to spending time with her (John can tag along if he wants) in the future. Smile

LucyJohnSchmitt

John Schmitt at Rockwood Music Hall

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Even though it’s only been a few weeks since we last saw John Schmitt perform (May 13th at The Living Room), we were really looking forward to this show last night. The set at The Living Room was excellent, which is reason enough to want more. But Rockwood Music Hall is also more intimate which in itself was a draw.

John delivered a completely satisfying experience (to high expectations!). He had a few surprises for us as well (another great reason to go see your favorite artists often).

JohnSchmittSinging

You can read a number of my posts about John. Here are the key facts that you’ll learn:

  • he has a wonderful voice
  • he plays guitar wonderfully
  • he writes exceptional songs (OK, I should have said wonderful songs, to stick with the theme) Winking smile
  • he has many talented musical buddies (both genders), who are only too happy to make music with him

All of those were in play last night, including John selecting an excellent set list.

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He played two songs solo, at least two with one female guest (two different women, we’ll get to them shortly) and the rest with a full band (which also had a surprise guest).

First, the band:

Pasquale Chieffalo on electric bass. John joked on stage that I would have to work extra-hard to figure out the correct spelling of Pasquale’s name. He was right, but he was also wrong, because I gave up pretty quickly and just shot John a message and he gave it to me, so I cheated. Winking smile Last night, I quipped back that I would just describe Pasquale as “The tall bass player”. Man, he is tall. Smile

PasqualeChieffalo

None of that is important, of course. The fact that Pasquale played really well and was at exactly the right volume is all that mattered. He played the bass on John’s CD, Ophelia, which we love.

One of the songs that John played solo was called “Me and the Chief”. He claims that it’s about his grandfather, but now that I see how to spell Pasquale’s last name, I’m less convinced. Winking smile

Ryan Vaughn on drums. I just praised Ryan’s drumming last week when he played with Robbie Gil. That was a louder, more upbeat set, and required a different kind of drumming. Obviously, Ryan handled the switch in styles last night extremely well (he’s one of the top NY-based drummers). Also the right volume (I mention it as a contrast to the drummer the set before, who was good, but too loud).

RyanVaughn

Matt Simons was a special guest on two songs, playing the saxophone! I pretty much like everything Matt Simons does, but from the first time I ever saw him play sax with the Greg Mayo Band, I knew that my softest spot for him would likely come whenever he broke out the sax. It was a complete surprise to see him play it with John.

MattSimonsSaxophone

John was very generous in giving Matt multiple long leads, and Matt nailed every one of them. Kudos and Bravo! Needless to say, the sax was well-matched to both songs that John invited him up for, the second of which was You Got Me Brother.

On to the ladies:

Karly Jurgensen was invited up to sing two songs with John. The first was Evangeline, a cover of a version of the song performed by The Band with special guest star Emmylou Harris (in 1976!). If you haven’t guessed yet, Karly played the part of Emmylou Harris. John performed the role of “The Band”, since he gave his band the song off (he’s generous like that). Lovely!

KarlyJurgensen

The second song was Ophelia, the title track of John’s CD (this time his band played as well). On this song Karly’s part doesn’t come in until nearly the end, when she sings “Adieu Love” quite a number of times, in harmony with John, but also while John sings some other lines.

John just released a live CD (pay what you will, so I advise you to pay a lot). Winking smile Ophelia on that CD (which you can stream for free) has both Chris Ayer and Julia Poorman singing along. In that version, Chris speaks to the audience (at the 1:18 mark) saying: “I promise I’m going to sing at some point”. I note that because Karly was much more patient and simply waited for the end of the song to do her part. Winking smile

Update: two people independently reached out privately to me to say that Chris would never be so rude as to talk during John’s song. One of them noted it was John who said “I promise they’re going to sing at some point”. It never occured to me that Chris was bring rude. Depending on how the show was going, previous banter with the audience and between them, I assumed (incorrectly) that he was being particularly funny. There was a wink at the end of the above paragraph, but I know not everyone trusts a winking man. 🙂

A little later on, John called up another female guest star.

Lissa Farquhar joined him to sing Going Back. In addition to singing beautiful harmony, Lissa sang lead as well. She then sang fantastic harmony on Ave Regina (what a wonderful song).

LissaFarquharJohnSchmittHarmony

John is one of the more consistent performers of the (way too many) ones that we follow.

P.S. This was the second of five sets that we saw last night, and one of the three that we originally planned to. Smile

Chris Ayer, John Schmitt and Andy Mac at The Living Room

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On April 21st, 2011, I tweeted the following:

Crushing traffic on I95 yesterday. Listening to @johnschmitt and @chrisayer saved our sanity!

I received back the following back from John:

@hadarvc Thx Radar! If you’re free on May 13th, Chris and I play the Living Room, at 10 & 11pm! Would love to say hello! I’ll have my band!

Yes, iPhone autocorrect prefers my name be Radar, such is life. Winking smile

That’s all the information we needed to lock it in our calendar (the show took place at The Living Room, as noted the tweet above). Even though something else important came up, we weren’t going to miss this show (see the very bottom of this post for our compromise/workaround). Doing my usual working backwards on the sets.

Chris Ayer started his set shortly after 11pm. I’ve written about Chris many times and how amazing he is. The last time I wrote about him I noted that Sierra Noble called Chris a poet (and I agreed). Let me take a stab at defining what I (and Lois) mean when we say that.

There are a ton of great lyricists out there. Substantially fewer of those are also poets. Great lyrics can tell a great story, have catchy rhymes or phrases and therefore clearly are the foundation of great songs. Poets create all that, but in addition, they emblazon images in your mind. Their turns of phrases are like Van Gogh’s brushstrokes. Many great songwriters achieve poetry on occasion. Poets achieve it regularly and prolifically. Chris is one such poet.

ChrisAyerSolo

Chris played his usual fantastic set. It was a blend of solo, full band and duets, all of which were equally satisfying. He played a new song, something like Hide in Plain Sight (but I’m reasonably sure it’s not that exactly). Wow, another one that had our table mesmerized.

Chris closed the show with Roy G. Biv. Lois might have tripped him on his way out if had skipped that song last night. Fortunately, she asked him to play it before the set started and he told her it was already on his set list. Winking smile

The band unplugged for Roy G. Biv. John Schmitt joined Chris. Chris, John and Matt Simons came into the audience standing in a large triangle so they could serenade different members. Chris Anderson and Stephen Chopek (the other two band members) came to the front of the stage. It was an amazing way to end a wonderful night.

In addition to bringing John up as a special guest, Chris also brought up Morgan Holland to sing with him on two songs. Perfect! John Schmitt and Morgan Holland will be playing back-to-back sets at Rockwood 1 on June 4th, at 7 and 8pm respectively. Come join us to enjoy what will undoubtedly be a great evening!

ChrisAyerMorganHolland

Speaking of upcoming shows, Chris Ayer will be at Rockwood 1 before them. May 27th at 8pm. We’ll be there too. Smile

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

Chris Anderson on electric and upright bass. Chris is one of our favorite bass players and last night was no exception. As fun as it is to listen to him play a more mellow set like Chris Ayer’s, I am distractedly looking forward to seeing Chris play with Ian Axel at the Bowery Ballroom on May 24th. Aside from the fact that it will be one of the epic nights of music in NYC, Chris Anderson will let loose in a way that tickles me to no end!

ChrisAndersonElectricBass

Stephen Chopek on drums and percussion. Stephen has quickly become a favorite drummer of ours. I was extremely pleased to see him playing with Chris Ayer last night, because he was not drumming for John Schmitt the set before. When we saw John and Chris at Jammin’ Java, Stephen drummed for both (it’s too expensive to bring two drummers I imagine). Another wonderful performance last night by Stephen.

StephenChopek

Matt Simons on keyboards (grand piano and electronic) and vocals. Matt is an excellent singer/songwriter in his own right and complements Chris Ayer perfectly when he plays sideman to him (which he does quite often). Their harmonies are wonderful and Matt’s keyboard play is excellent. While he didn’t play it last night, I love his sax playing as well.

MattSimonsMattSimonsSinging

I think we missed our tradition of showing Chris Ayer’s unique set list (from his and our vantage) the last time or two. Here is the one from last night:

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

John Schmitt mirrored Chris’ set (or the reverse, since John was on first) by playing solo, full band and duet as well. He just so happened to do it with an entirely different crew. While John is a somewhat newer discovery for us, you can see from the tweet that started this off, being late to the party hasn’t cost him any of our affection.

JohnSchmitt

His recent CD release, Ophelia, is a gorgeous album. John has a fantastic voice (very soulful) and he plays the guitar beautifully. Add a top band (which isn’t necessary, but always welcome!) and he too wows the crowd, every time.

We like a lot of John’s songs, but at the top are Ophelia and Ave Regina. If he hadn’t sung either of those we might have had to mug him in the (proverbial) parking lot. Thankfully, he performed both (more on each in a minute when I mention the guest stars). Both qualify as poet songs. Smile

Joining John on Ave Regina and Going Back was Lissa Farquhar on vocals. Lissa has a beautiful voice and did a great job on both songs. Ave Regina has stunning harmonies in it, in addition to Lissa taking a verse on the lead. What I particularly liked is the fact that Lissa belted out the harmony as well as the lead. Many backup vocalists think it’s incumbent on them to sing softly to let the lead vocalist shine. It’s a nice thought, but it makes the harmonies so much more difficult to appreciate. Let your voices ring out! Smile

LissaFarquhar

Joining John for his last two numbers was Chris Ayer on vocals. Another wonderful piece of harmony.

JohnSchmittChrisAyer

John’s band, from left-to-right on stage:

Greg Barbone on keyboards (organ and grand piano). The Living Room has both a grand piano on stage and a double-decker organ (the size of an upright piano). They are on opposite ends of the stage. John joked that Greg was going to be running back-and-forth, but it turned out not to be a joke. So, I could have listed Greg first or last. Since he kicked it off on the organ, first it is.

GregBarboneOrgan

Greg was great on both. We already knew he would be great on the piano, because he was also the pianist for the set before (covered shortly). The organ was covered up during that set, so I didn’t even know it was there (two feet from where I was sitting).

Brian Killeen on electric bass. We’ve seen Brian many times (mostly with Martin Rivas) and have enjoyed his play each and every time (last night included). When John mentioned that Brian had recently opened for Bon Jovi, Brian joked that it was a solo bass performance, and he did a quick and cute bass-rock-star like thing on stage.

BrianKilleen

Mike Sutton on drums (sorry, couldn’t find a good individual link to Mike). Recall what I said above, that I was expecting Stephen Chopek on drums. I was impressed with Mike’s play, but I need to hear more to form a better opinion.

MikeSutton

Here is John’s set list. Don’t believe everything you read. For example, Lissa did not join on Ophelia and there was no sax during the set (it does say “possible Sax solo” after all):

JohnSchmittSetList

Originally, we had intended to show up just for those two sets. John tweeted that Andy Mac would be on at 9pm. We’d never heard of him, but if he’s part of John and Chris’ crew, we wanted to give him a shot. It was a fun set, so I’m glad we made the effort.

AndyMac

Andy started the show off with a bang. After being ready to go, he just walked off the stage. While our attention was focused on him walking away, his band quietly slipped on Hockey Masks in honor of Friday the 13th. When Andy came back on stage, he too was wearing the mask and had a hoodie on as well. All very menacing. He sang the entire first song with the mask on.

SeanDixonAndyMacHockeyMasksFridayThe13th

That first song is an ancient classic, Build Me up Buttercup. Andy didn’t do it in the classic style. Rather, it was a very slow, Jazzy version, with a few substituted lyrics to make it dead-on for Friday the 13th. What makes me note it is that in the same week, in Philadelphia, we heard Julia Nunes play the same song (on the ukulele, in the more traditional style). The universe is telling me something, I just don’t know what, yet…

Andy has a really nice voice, plays the guitar well, and was accompanied by a tight band. While there were a number of styles performed during the set, most had a fun up-beat vibe to them.

Andy is quite funny. One of his bits was pulling out seven really bad horror movie DVDs that he found while cleaning his apartment. He promised the first seven people who bought one or more of his CDs (he had three available for sale) would get to pick which free horror movie DVD they’d like to take as a bonus.

AndyMacHorrorDVD

Andy’s band, left-to-right:

Mal Gibbes on saxophone (which looked like it was an antique and my apologies, I couldn’t find a good individual link). He performed in roughly 1/2 the numbers. He was excellent, but on most of the numbers he was trying to be super mellow and soft (more complementary than lead, even when they were clearly his leads!). On the last number, Sara, he blew it out, loud and proud and he nailed it!

MalGibbesJimMcNamara

Jim McNamara on upright bass. First, the Mac in Andy Mac is really McNamara. Jim and Andy are brothers! Second, we’ve seen Jim once before, supporting Bryan Dunn at Rockwood 1. We were there to see Vienna Teng followed by The Open Sea (Ari Hest and Rosi Golan). We showed up one set early to ensure good seats for Vienna. Here’s what I had to say that night about Jim:

Jim McNamara played an upright bass. He blew me away. I can’t say that I recall an upright bass being used by a mostly rock ‘n roll band, but Jim made it work perfectly. A few times he played leads in harmony with Bryan’s guitar. Some of those licks were pretty darn fast, and he nailed every one of them!

JimMcNamara

Suffice it to say, he was excellent last night as well, though nowhere near as highlighted as he was with Bryan Dunn’s group (perhaps there’s some sibling rivalry going on). Winking smile

Sean Dixon on drums (also couldn’t find a good individual link and thanks Sam for saving my old-man brain again!). He was excellent, in particular really interesting cymbal play. I’d like to hear more of him.

SeanDixon

Greg Barbone on grand piano. As mentioned above, Greg was outstanding. This was our first time seeing him, but certainly not our last.

GregBarbonePiano

For his last two songs, Andy called up Dave Pollack (a.k.a. Shaky Dave, also no good individual link) to play the harmonica. Very nicely done!

ShakyDavePollack

Not to slight Andy, here is his set list:

AndyMacSetList

To make the evening all the more enjoyable, we shared our tiny table with three lovely ladies, all of whom we consider friends, all met through this music scene.

After saying goodbye to a bunch of people (most of whom were on stage during the three sets), we headed off to the compromise mentioned above.

Earlier last night, The Borromeo String Quartet had a show at the TENRI Cultural Center. Melissa Tong’s brother (Kristopher Tong) is one of the violinists in the quartet and she has told us how awesome he and the quartet are (and she should know!). We’ve missed them once before when they played in NY and we felt badly missing them again last night (we would have had to leave at intermission and we would have missed Andy Mac’s set completely).

In addition to the show, there was a surprise Birthday Celebration for Kristopher afterward. His parents flew in, but the bigger surprise was that his other sister flew in too. Since she wasn’t landing in LaGuardia until 11:30pm, Melissa told us that we could show up as late we needed and the party would still be going. She was correct!

KristopherTongMelissaTong

We walked into the café at 12:30am and indeed, got to meet everyone and wish Kristopher a happy birthday. Even though it was brief, it was a very happy time. I particularly enjoyed meeting Melissa’s Dad and chatting with him a bit. It’s no wonder his kids are so awesome!

Another late night tonight, but you gotta do what you gotta do… Smile