Mercury Lounge

Ian Axel and Rachel Platten at Mercury Lounge

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When this show was announced in October, we instantly grabbed four tickets (the maximum that Mercury Lounge sells, online or in person!). Since then, we’ve been waiting impatiently for the show to start.

The last time we saw Ian Axel perform was a single song guest appearance on 9/22/2010. Before that, it was 7/22/2010 when he performed an intimate two-person show (Chad Vaccarino was the only person to appear with him that night) at Flux Studios. It was definitely full-on withdrawal time for us, since we missed Ian’s big CMJ show in October.

For those who don’t like all my details, the bottom line first: The show was absolutely awesome!

Ian is releasing a CD on 2/15/2011. Before that, next Tuesday (12/14/2010 to be exact) he will be releasing three of the songs from that CD on iTunes. If I understand correctly, you’ll be able to complete your purchase of the full CD on 2/15/2011 without being penalized (or buying double) if you buy the first three songs next week. Do it!

If you’re not familiar with Ian (shame on you), here’s a YouTube video of This is the New Year. If you are, consider this a warm-up to get you in the mood for the rest of this post:

Ian Axel This is the New Year video

You can preview (stream) next week’s release at Ian’s Facebook fan page. If you listen to This is the New Year carefully, you’ll note that it’s a new version. I (normally) hate when artists tinker with perfection (and I hope you’ll agree that the video above is perfection). Yet, I grudgingly admit that they made an even better version (not that it needed improving), so even fans who have the previous version stuck in their head will love this one!

Last night, Ian played all three of the songs on next week’s EP release. If you missed the show and want to experience a bit of the magic, listen to Girl I Got a Thing on the above Facebook page. When Ian sings “Girl I Got a Thing for You”, you respond with “Girl I Got a Thing for You” out loud (like we all did). Then, when he sings “Na na na na”, you shout out “Whoa Wo”. If you can get a couple of hundred people to do it with you, really loud, you’ll come close to reproducing what it sounded like at Mercury Lounge! Smile

Ian poured out his heart to us and from all of the FB statuses and tweets I’ve seen, everyone responded similarly. He rocked out on some numbers, played solo on Say Something (on the keyboards this time, rather the slightly more typical ukulele version) and added ukulele magic on two others.

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Ian typically plays with a four piece band (including Ian on the keyboards). Last night, they were down a man. It didn’t matter, the sound was huge. I’ll start with the core members who were on stage for all but Say Something, but stay tuned, because there are two other people who will be covered right after!

Adam Christgau on drums and background vocals. It’s simply been way too long since we’ve seen Adam play (7/8/2010 to be exact!). It felt good to feel Adam’s rhythm hitting me straight on (we were right in front of the stage, dead center). The clock for missing seeing Adam play is now officially ticking again…

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Chris Kuffner on electric bass and background vocals. If you read this space regularly, you know that we love Chris Kuffner. All but one of his performances have been on electric guitar (excellent). Still, I lament that I need to see him open it up on the bass. The one time I’ve seen him on the bass, the music called for a more sedate style.

Last night, Chris got to open it up and I’m glad I was there. He also did something I’ve never seen/heard before. Using his pedals to add effects, Chris got the bass to sound exactly like an organ! It was cool and a little eerie. Scratch another one off my music bucket list, seeing Chris play electric bass! Smile

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That everyone at every Ian show loves Ian is no surprise. In fact, if it weren’t true, there’d be some slapping going on in the audience. What warms my heart each and every time (even though it’s completely expected now!) is that the audience totally gets how awesome Chad Vaccarino is and what an integral part of the magic he is.

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First and foremost (before any of us get to see/hear the result), Chad is Ian’s regular writing partner, co-writing many of Ian’s songs. For that alone, he deserves a spot in some hall of fame. But it’s hardly that alone. When Chad steps on stage to sing with Ian (and now to play trumpet a bit as well), there is an electricity in the crowd. The roar when Chad sings is even greater than that.

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Last night was no exception. Chad ripped the room up. There’s little more to say than that. Each is an enormous talent on their own. Together, they boggle the mind.

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Mike Campbell was a special guest on two numbers, playing acoustic guitar and singing harmony. I just recently covered Mike’s first solo show in this post. The first song that Mike joined on was also the first song that Ian played the ukulele on, Pacific Sun (a song Ian rarely plays live, so it was a very special treat). Chad stood between them and the three of them harmonized beautifully. I’ll get to the other song in a minute. Well done Mike (who also got a rousing cheer when he came up each time!).

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When Ian played his last song the crowd went nuts screaming for him to play more. After the band milled around on the stage hugging each other for a minute, Ian looked at the sound engineer to see if he could play another one. He got the OK. He announced that he would play a new song that wasn’t on the new CD. He and Chad performed You’ll Be OK. They nailed it (you didn’t expect otherwise, did you?).

Once they finished, they tried to get off the stage again. A 100+ people starting chanting Shorty (short for Shorty Don’t Wait, another new number that isn’t on the new CD). If Ian and Chad had stepped off the stage, trouble might have brewed. Ian looked up at the sound engineer again and got the OK for one last number.

Mike Campbell came back up and Ian picked up the ukulele again. They blew the crowd away. I can’t think of a better way to finish off an extraordinary evening than by playing a song the crowd demands and delivering it better than the crowd could hope for.

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They were on stage for 53 minutes. It felt like one minute in terms of time flying by. It felt like three hours in terms of the level of satisfaction.

As if the above weren’t enough, that’s only part of the story of why last night was so spectacular. There was an opening act before Ian that was incredible.

Rachel Platten opened the show. I’ve seen Rachel perform a full set just once before (covered in this post). If you read that, you know I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Rachel’s show that night. Unfortunately, Lois was sick and missed that show.

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Last night Rachel had a smaller band and that worked really well for me to appreciate her on an entirely new level. While I like the sound of a bigger band (in general), sometimes it’s harder to pick up on the lyrics to songs. Last night I had no trouble hearing every word that Rachel sang. I have a huge new respect for her as a songwriter. Every song was interesting, but some were deep and moving.

Rachel’s voice is unbelievable. Power, but crystal clear as well. It’s almost laser like. As I mentioned in the last post, she beams throughout her set. If you’re not infected with her energy and sweetness, get yourself to a doctor stat!

I knew she was good on the keyboards from the last show, but last night she also had a song where she danced up and down the keyboard at high speed. I was standing right in front of her and could see every finger movement. She’s better than I realized the first time and I had no complaints that night!

Here’s last night’s set list, all gems!

RachelPlattenSetList

Playing with Rachel were:

Craig Meyer on drums. This is the third or fourth time that I’ve apologized for not having a good link to an individual page for Craig. One of his friends better force him to have a presence somewhere, soon. Craig is excellent. His drumming is as much a visual art form as it is aural. He played a snare and a djembe last night rather than a full drum set. He also played the smallest glockenspiel that I’ve ever seen, with the tip of a drum stick. It was funny.

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Nathan Eklund on trumpet and harmony. Nathan sang beautifully with Rachel, I really liked their harmonies. He’s excellent on the trumpet as well, lending jazz tinges to Rachel’s songs when he took his solos.

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When the show was over, Lois headed to the merch table and bought a CD and a T-Shirt from Rachel. We both got to tell her how wonderful she was.

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Even though we only bought four tickets (hence two guests), we ended up seeing a dozen friends there, most of us standing front and center stage. It was truly a party in the best sense of the word, with Ian and Rachel performing DJ duties. Winking smile

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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…

Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel at Mercury Lounge

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Lois and I go out of our way to avoid concerts where we have to stand throughout the show. That cuts out a number of top venues in NYC where that’s the norm.

For most rules, there are some exceptions. Last night, knowing we would be standing, we still couldn’t imagine skipping The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel. We would have gone to see either separately, but together, it was a lineup that was a crime to miss.

In fact, here’s my friend’s Facebook update about last night’s show:

HOLY CRAP!! Okay, seriously if you live in NYC and you did not come out to the Mercury Lounge to hear Ian Axel and The Paper Raincoat tonight you should be ashamed of yourself. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G show!

The only thing that would have added icing to the most delicious (birthday) cake would have been adding Vienna Teng to the lineup. While that magic didn’t happen, she was in the audience, so we were at least graced with her presence. 🙂

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Both The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel had all-star musicians supporting them. I’ll give each of them a shout-out toward the end.

Aside from the always spectacular performances that these artists deliver, last night had an extra-special surprise in store for us. Lois has a birthday this week, and The Paper Raincoat worked up a rendition of Happy Birthday which the jam-packed crowd sang along to.

They were singing the wonderful It All Depends, and toward the end, stopped singing, but continued the beat. Alex Wong announced that their friend Lois was in the crowd, and that it was her birthday, and would everyone please sing Happy Birthday to her. That was cool enough, but he got everyone in the audience to clap a rapid beat (to match the song), and ambeR Rubarth handed Lois a tambourine to play along.

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This was super meaningful to both of us, because it’s only a tad over a year ago, April 17th, 2009, that we first discovered The Paper Raincoat, and that night, Lois also played the tambourine during It All Depends at Canal Room!

They end the song with three people drumming fantastically on the same drum set at the same time (Alex, ambeR and Greg Ritchie). It’s incredible. But this time, because Alex got the crowd clapping in high-speed rhythm, everyone was essentially drumming together at the same time. What a crescendo!

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Speaking of clapping, there was another magical moment early in their set. They opened with Brooklyn Blurs, and then played Sympathetic Vibrations. Before announcing Sympathetic Vibrations or playing a single note, Alex merely said:

For those of you who already know your part, join me now

Nearly everyone in the crowd (probably close to 200 people) didn’t need any other clue. We all started clapping a pretty intricate beat to Sympathetic Vibrations. Too cool to describe, seriously. Having 200 people stop on cue as well is something to behold.

For the tiniest taste of the show (you can’t capture the feeling in a YouTube video), here they are performing the above-mention song, clapping and all, Sympathetic Vibrations at Mercury Lounge, last night.

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Mercury Lounge has a capacity of 250 people. It had to be close to full. The crowd was insane for Ian Axel and just as loud (between songs) and interactive for The Paper Raincoat. Standing wasn’t bad, because it’s impossible not to move with the music, so you’re really not stationary (not that we’ll start searching out shows to stand for).

Early in Ian’s set, he played a particularly energetic song, sung with his usual passion. He was probably close to collapsing in a pool of sweat at the end of the number. Someone in the crowd yelled out “Play in again!”. Lois immediately added “This time, with feeling!”, which evoked a huge laugh both from the audience, and from Ian himself. 🙂

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Joining Ian on stage for two numbers was Chad Vaccarino. For the first number, they were also joined by Mike Campbell (I can’t find a good link for him). They played Shorty Don’t Wait. It was awesome. Here’s a YouTube video of them performing it from last night’s show.

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Immediately following that, Ian did his signature song (which is the title cut of his new CD), This Is The New Year. Chad is featured on that as well. Seriously, check out the “official” video of that song as well. If an Ian set was comprised of simply playing that song 10 times in a row, I bet no one would leave disappointed! 🙂

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During The Paper Raincoat set, they announced that Paste Magazine (one of the premiere music industry publications) will be featuring them for the next month or so. I think the magazine will be giving away a free song each week, and a bonus free song from artists that The Paper Raincoat will pick to match their own free song. Awesome for those of you who haven’t yet bought their amazing CD!

The Paper Raincoat et. al. taking a bow at the end of their show:

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On to the shout-outs for all the amazing musicians who were on stage. Starting with the people supporting The Paper Raincoat:

David Fallo on viola was superb!

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Melissa Tong on violin was her typical excellent self!

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Greg Ritchie on drums. As I pointed out in a recent blog covering The Paper Raincoat in Norfolk, VA, the drums are an integral part of The Paper Raincoat sound. They did an amazing job in Norfolk without a drummer, but the sound was distinctly different.

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Filling the shoes of Kevin Rice and Adam Christgau, the two drummers who between them play at nearly every show is no small task. Greg did an excellent job. I judge that by how many times I can’t help but look away from the singing (and other instruments) and I’m forced to zone in on some top-notch drumming. That happened often enough last night. 🙂

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony is always wonderful. Typically, Tony plays the upright bass and occasionally switches to the electric. Last night’s show was purely electric (both the instrument, and Tony’s play!).

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On to Ian’s band:

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar. As masterful as he always is, but I’m still dying to see him wail on the bass (where I’m told by people I trust that Chris will blow my mind!). We also finally got to meet Chris last night after seeing him play quite a number of times. He’s incredibly nice (no surprise for this group of musicians!).

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Adam Christgau on drums. Man, it’s been a little too long since we’ve had the pleasure. We got hooked on seeing Adam often over the past year, and he’s captivated me each time. Adam was a trooper because directly from last night’s set with Ian, he ran to Joe’s Pub to play the 9:30 show with Julian Velard.

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Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris is perfectly matched with Ian, both musically and passionately. We love his play and his style every time we see him.

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We were at the head of the line to get in when the doors opened (no surprise). That had the added benefit of us being at the door when the musicians were coming and going after sound check. Here are some pictures right outside the club, before the show started, with a few shots at the bar after the show thrown in for good measure. 🙂

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Vienna Teng and The Paper Raincoat at Attucks

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Vienna Teng and The Paper Raincoat are up there among our favorite performers, both live and their CDs. Recently, Vienna announced that she’s taking a break from touring and returning to school this fall.

While I’m sure that The Paper Raincoat (TPR) will continue to perform (in fact, we have tickets to see them on May 6th a Mercury Lounge in NYC), both Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth have so much going on individually and with other projects that they don’t play together all that regularly.

So, having a chance to see both acts perform on the same stage on the same night was going to be hard to pass up. They played last night at The Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, VA.

We wouldn’t likely have gone from NYC, but luckily, we were a little closer, in Fredericksburg, VA. Still 2.5 hours away, but that’s a walk in the park for us.

I’ve written about Vienna and TPR many times. You can search for either on the top right of this page if you want to see how consistently amazing both are.

Last night Vienna was the headliner, so I’ll cover her performance first. Vienna performed one song solo, standing at ambeR Rubarth’s electronic keyboards. That was the first time we’ve seen her stand and play the keyboards. She also performed one song with ambeR Rubarth alone, a new song they co-wrote on a writers retreat in January. Gorgeous!

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For all of her other numbers, Vienna was accompanied by Alex Wong and Ward Williams. I can never say enough about Alex, and he was as wonderful again last night as he always is.

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We’ve seen Ward Williams briefly, twice before. Last night he was on stage for the entire TPR set, and for all but the two songs mentioned above with Vienna. He’s a delight as a musician (cello and electric guitar) and as a personality with a humorous on-stage presence.

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Reconstructing the set list from memory (a few of Vienna’s fans have asked me to do this whenever I see her):

Whatever You Want, Blue Caravan, Gravity, Kansas (solo), In Another Life, Stray Italian Greyhound, Everything’s Fine (with ambeR), Homecoming, Antebellum, Augustine, The Last Snowfall, St. Stephen’s Cross, Harbor, Grandmother Song, Keep The Customer Satisfied (Simon and Garfunkel cover)

It was a 90-minute set, capped off with Grandmother Song. For the first time in our experience, Vienna suggested that the audience might want to stand (in order to better participate) during the song. I was impressed at how fast everyone stood up. The energy was incredible.

They came out for an encore (no one sat down after Grandmother song, so it was a standing ovation) and played a wonderful version of Keep The Customer Satisfied, a Simon and Garfunkel cover.

The Paper Raincoat opened the show (which surprisingly, started 15 minutes earlier than announced). Everything about the performance last night was different (still awesome) because for the first time in our experience, TPR had no full-time drummer.

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Instead, Ward Williams joined them mostly on the cello. Alex multi-tasked more than usual (which is saying a lot!) because he did play some percussion, which he rarely does for a TPR show.

I would describe the difference as mellowing out their sound quite a bit. It was gorgeous, and the crowd loved every note, but it didn’t have the feel of a typical TPR show.

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They closed the show with the always crowd-pleasing Rewind, this time joined by Vienna Teng (where Adam Christgau or Kevin Rice typically are). The crowd went nuts and shot to their feet at the end of the song, sending TPR off the stage to a roaring standing ovation.

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This was the last show in this year’s Discovery Series at The Attucks Theatre. Most of the people in the audience were unfamiliar with either Vienna or TPR, and I would say that it was one of the better audiences we’ve been part of, and both picked up hundreds of new fans. There was brisk business at the Merch table selling CDs, and all four artists came out to meet, greet and sign the CDs.

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I already mentioned that we drove 2.5 hours to see the show. What I didn’t mention is that I caught a horrible cold a day or two earlier, and we were very close to not making the effort. Our original intention was to drive the 2.5 hours back after the show, but given my condition, our compromise was to stay in Norfolk for the night.

We got to our hotel at 3pm and I napped for a couple of hours. After saying hello/goodbye to the artists, we headed back to the hotel for the night, returning to Fredericksburg this morning. More than worth it, even though my condition hasn’t improved one iota…