Michael Daves

Michael Daves at Rockwood Music Hall

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We’ve seen Michael Daves twice before. Once, in a solo performance at Rockwood Music Hall and once with Chris Thile for their CD Release show next door at Stage 2. Our first experience with him was good, but the duet with Chris Thile was extraordinary, even though Michael couldn’t sing due to the crazy allergy season.

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Last night Michael was back from a 4-week hiatus while he was touring with Chris Thile (he plays every Tuesday night at 10pm at Rockwood 1). His voice was fully back to normal. He performed an excellent set of hill-country bluegrass numbers. His voice is high-pitched, but so clean and powerful.

The real magic happens while he’s playing the guitar (accompanying himself while he’s singing, as well as a number of amazing instrumentals and solos). I mentioned in my first post about him that he plays a style I’ve never seen before. Basically, he strums full chords (a fast rhythm style), while somehow using a few fingers to blast out lightning fast and interesting leads.

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Close your eyes and you’d have to believe there are two guitar players on stage.

While we (and others) specifically came to see Michael play, our main reason for coming out last night was to see the next performer (whom we had never seen before). She’s a huge star in Mexico (if you’re interested in knowing more, read my next post). Quite a number of her fans did what we typically do at Rockwood, they came one set early to get settled in.

I was impressed by how much it seemed that they appreciated Michael’s unique performance, considering that it couldn’t be more different from the one they came to see.

I’m sure this won’t be the last Michael Daves’ set we’ll be catching.

This was post three of four today, on to the last one. Whew.

Chris Thile and Michael Daves at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Any Chris Thile show in NYC sells out, whether it’s with the Punch Brothers or with Michael Daves. Add a little special sauce, say a CD Release Show and you can be sure that the sellout will happen even more quickly.

Chris Thile and Michael Daves just released a new CD, Sleep With One Eye Open, on Tuesday this week. To celebrate, they scheduled three shows on consecutive nights (Tue/Wed/Thu) at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. We were lucky enough to have a friend who alerted me to the impending ticket sales a day before they were available. We bought ours for the Wednesday night show (last night) as did a number of our friends.

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There were two problems last night:

  1. Rockwood 2 had a problem with the air conditioner for about an hour and the place was hot (they worked feverishly and got it working roughly 30 minutes after the show started)
  2. Before they started playing, Chris announced that Michael had been stricken by The Pollen (something I’m familiar with because Lois has been similarly stricken for over a week, almost debilitatingly so!)

#2 couldn’t be solved by having a crew climb up and down through a tiny open tile in the ceiling (which is how they solved #1). Instead, 100% of the vocals were handled by Chris last night. While he made a very few flubs (all turned into highlight reel moments!), it was a qualitatively different experience. It was impressive to know that Chris paid attention to Michael’s parts when they were rehearsing, rather than dozing off. Winking smile

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Apologies for the photo quality. The lighting is never good for compact cameras, but it was darker than usual last night (which fit the mood just right, but made it worse for the camera), plus we were further from the stage than usual. All photos can be clicked on for larger sizes (that’s always true, even though I mention it every once in a while…)

I mentioned to a friend before the show started that I had never seen the Rockwood 2 stage as barren as it was last night, even when there was only a solo singer/songwriter performing. All instruments were removed. There were no amplifiers. No electrical chords of any kind. Just a single microphone (with a shock mount, not the typical mic’s they use in these types of shows).

Chris and Michael did not plug in their instruments (mandolin and guitar, respectively). They shared the one mic on stage for the vocals and the instruments. As intimate a setup as you can imagine, even though there were roughly 200 people getting to know each other really well (come to think of it, that’s pretty intimate in its own way).

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Both Chris and Michael were simply amazing. Aside from the fact that Chris was forced to sing all of the vocals, the two of them are a 50/50 team on this project. Even though Chris is an international superstar (perhaps the best mandolin player in the world, in my opinion), Michael gets as many leads on the guitar. At no time during a Michael Daves lead do you find yourself thinking “When will Chris take the reins again?”, that’s how lightning fast and interesting Michael is on the guitar.

They didn’t just play material from the new CD. In fact, Chris joked after the third song that they still hadn’t gotten to one that was on the new CD. No one was complaining, though I admit to still being curious as to what was on it. In the end, they did play quite a number of the songs (there are 16 on the CD) and I knew I would love the CD when I got my hands on it.

The show was split into two sets with a 12-minute intermission. Each set was over 50 minutes. Including the encore, they played for nearly 115 minutes (that excludes the intermission!).

During each set, there was a request portion that was obvious to many in the crowd (we’ve seen Chris and Michael separately, but never together, so we didn’t know what was coming). Even before Chris could get the words out: “You know what’s coming, it’s time for Fiddle Tunes!”, people were yelling out a dozen Fiddle Tunes for them to play.

During the first set, after conferring, Chris and Michael settled on three Fiddle Tunes, which they played consecutively, morphing one into the next, with no breaks. Awesome! The only thing missing was that Melissa Tong was sitting right near us and they could have forced her on the stage to have an actual fiddle player up there with them! But, given how blazingly fast both Chris and Michael are on their instruments, you could almost imagine a hard-sawing fiddle player up there.

During the second set, they agreed to do four consecutive tunes. Afterward, Chris joked that someone famousHoudini (of course, my old-man brain is blanking on exactly who now, sorry!Thanks Melissa!) died because theyhe tried to do five consecutive Fiddle Tunes. That’s why they had to stop at four. It would simply be too dangerous. Winking smile (In case you can’t easily see it, in the next photo, Chris is holding up four fingers as the crowd is going wild, literally!)

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During intermission, Lois ran up to the merch table and bought the CD. This morning, I listened to it two times straight through.

It’s an absolutely fantastic collection of traditional Bluegrass (Hill Country) music. As amazing as last night’s performance was, the CD is better (musically, not experientially). Michael’s voice is very distinctive and the two of them sing harmony really well. The mixer has their vocals and instruments at exactly the right levels throughout. There isn’t a weak song in the 16 and there are enough leads on both the mandolin and guitar to blow your mind multiple times.

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Well done, both live and in the studio!

Chasing Violet and Michael Daves at Rockwood Music Hall

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Once again, Twitter delivers. I’ve mentioned it before, I’ll mention it again, follow the artists that you like on Twitter, you never know when you’ll find out about something that you might otherwise never hear about.

For a few months now, Melissa Tong has been telling me that I need to see Michael Daves perform. Beginning a few weeks back, he has a residency at Rockwood Music Hall every Tuesday night at 10pm. We had an aborted attempt to see him last Tuesday, but were finally able to commit to going last night.

We were sitting around watching TV, resting up for what was going to be a later night than usual (it ended up being even later than we had imagined). I was catching up on Twitter, when I saw a tweet from Rachel Platten (if you read this space, you know she’s one of our current obsessions!):

Whatever. Get it together Platten. Oh and come to Rockwood Music Hall tonight! My new band is playing at 9 ~ it’s free!

Say what? The set immediately before the set we’re already going to be there for is Rachel Platten? How could I have missed this? I didn’t! I went back to check the website and the band listed at the 9pm slot was called Chasing Violet. If you’ve learned anything in these posts, it’s that many (most?) of these NYC-based musicians have at least one side project, some have a dozen!

Listen to the five songs available on the Chasing Violet link above and if you don’t love them, I’ll immediately refund the money you spent on my advice here! Winking smile

We happily accelerated our plans and showed up at Rockwood exactly at 9pm. The place was crazy mobbed as Ed Romanoff was packing up his equipment from an obviously very successful set. As people left we got to squeeze in and even (luckily) grab two seats.

Chasing Violet is Rachel Platten and Nick Howard. Nick is a Brit (we won’t hold that against him). Winking smile In a small world story, I was introduced to Nick by Alex Berger on December 7th, 2010, when we all attended an Ian Axel show at Mercury Lounge. Nick was charming and funny and we had some good laughs (all at Berger’s expense, in front of him). Winking smile So, I was now even more intrigued to hear Chasing Violet (though Rachel was draw enough).

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This was their first-ever public show. The songs are great, their voices amazing. For a first show, considerably polished. The flubs (of course there were flubs) were turned into very light-hearted moments that enhanced the show. Each is charming in their own right and together even more so.

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One big surprise was hearing Nick sing after hearing him talk (even at the show, not just when I met him in December). With one exception, Nick sang in an alto register, often taking the higher harmonies and Rachel does not have a deep voice. He hits the high notes so crisply, but when he speaks, it’s a more normal male baritone. Quite interesting.

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They joked a number of times about how this would likely be their last show as well. That’s not true, as they’re already listed at Rockwood on March 8th at 9pm (once again followed by Michael Daves). Of course they’ll get better with each show, but they might lose some opportunities to make us laugh along the way.

I’m so glad that I found out about this show and that we were able to make it in time. I would not have been happy to hear about it after the fact.

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Back to why we were originally going to Rockwood to begin with, Michael Daves!

Michael played acoustic guitar and sang solo (with the exception of one surprise guest). He had his own microphone with him (the kind you see in a studio, with a shock mount). I’ve never seen anyone have that kind of mic at Rockwood before. Amazingly, I’ll bet $1.75 that for whatever reason, the mic was not playing through the PA. In other words, it didn’t matter that he brought (or even had) a mic at all. His guitar wasn’t plugged into an amp either, he was raising it to the mic to play.

Did it make a difference? Not in the least! He sings so powerfully, and with a serious bite in his voice, that it carried cleanly throughout the room. His guitar was a bit softer, but since it wasn’t competing with any other instruments or voices, it was easy to hear as well.

He’s a superb guitar player. I had no doubt of that going in, since I became aware that he regularly plays with Chris Thile. Chris wouldn’t play with a musical slouch.

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Michael’s set consisted of traditional Appalachian-style bluegrass/roots music (since I’m not familiar with him, I don’t know if all of his sets are this style or not). I’m mildly surprised that a place like Rockwood gave him a long every-Tuesday residency, since this isn’t the most popular music in NYC.

We like most kinds of music, in particular bluegrass (though typically, the more full-band bluegrass sounds). So, it was definitely a treat to see his particular picking style. He was capable of mixing a flat-picking lead with a strumming rhythm, at the same time. Sort of accompanying his own leads. Sweet.

Toward the end of his set, in a complete surprise to everyone (including her), Michael called up Melissa Tong (our reason for being there to begin with!) to sing a song with him. It was the best song in his set (IMHO). Melissa has a lovely voice (though she doesn’t sing often enough). Because the mic was off (no one has proven to me that I am wrong yet, so my $1.75 goes unclaimed) Melissa had to sing louder than she normally does. Bravo, more Melissa! Smile

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When the set was over we bumped into Rebecca Haviland and got to tell her in person how amazing she was on Monday night at the Soul Revue Benefit.

Lois and I probably could have just fallen asleep right there at Rockwood. Melissa gently twisted our arms to extend the evening a bit longer and head over to Mona’s for their amazing Tuesday night jams. We had no idea what we were in for, but we agreed.

Continue reading about our experience at Mona’s, which was amazing enough for me to want to make it a separate post.