Mike Campbell

Ian and Chad at The Standard Hotel

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Ian and Chad is the new name for what used to be known as Ian Axel (which always featured Chad Vaccarino). Last night they headlined a show at The Standard Hotel (formerly known as The Cooper Square Hotel). They announced it as their first show of 2012. If you accept the notion of officially sanctioned shows then that’s true.

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On March 29th, they played a secret show (so it wasn’t real). We were there and I wrote about it. I thought that part of the reason for the secret show was to test some new material in public, before debuting it officially last night. As such, I assumed that I could save a lot of typing by pointing people at that post and saying “Read that, but imagine it in a more stunning setting.” To a large extent that was true, but the deviations surprised me.

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I’ll talk a bit about the venue and the promoter below, but first let’s dive into the performance.

Last names weren’t even mentioned. They introduced themselves separately, simply as Ian and Chad. They opened with the same sequence of three songs as they did at the secret show: 1) Cheer Up, 2) Rockstar, 3) This is the New Year. Again, they reversed which verses they sang in This is the New Year. Both did a great job with the other’s verses, but in the first surprise of the evening, the same spot that Chad came in late at the secret show (“I pass it back to you”), caused him a bit of trouble again last night. At both shows that ended up being a charming/disarming moment.

At the secret show, that was the only song performed that is on the current CD (same title, This is the New Year). Quick aside, you can download that entire CD and pay whatever you want!

This is where my big surprise came. After that song, Chad left the stage. I expected Ian to play the same brand-new song he played at Rockwood, a song about/for his parents, and his love of/for them.

Instead, he played Gone (also a song written for his parents). I wonder whether he’s simply not ready to play that song in front of his parents just yet (they were there last night, but not at the secret show). Still, in rebranding themselves Ian and Chad, he picked a song that was on the current Ian Axel CD. OK, no biggie.

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At the secret show, each played a single solo song. I expected Chad to come right back up (either solo, or for another song together). Instead, Ian played two more songs solo, Waltz and Say Something. Both are on the current CD (again, much to my surprise). Ian was amazing on all three solo numbers, so I’m not complaining, but it was totally unexpected (perhaps that’s a good thing!).

Chad did play his one solo song on the guitar. It’s gorgeous and I look forward to more of his efforts on the guitar and singing from his heart. I don’t know if the song has an official title, but I’d call it “I Don’t Want to Love Somebody Else”. Awesome.

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Chad had a special seat for when he played the guitar. Winking smile

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Mike Campbell joined Ian and Chad for two numbers. Mike played acoustic guitar and sang harmony. Ian played the ukulele on both. The first was a song they all co-wrote, Amory. It would be hard to describe how incredible their harmony was and how absolutely pin-drop quiet the packed-in crowd was.

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They followed that up with their signature Shorty Don’t Wait, which Chad crushed (as did Ian and Mike).

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Ian and Chad closed out the show with Homeward Bound/The More We Love/I Really Want It (no, not three songs, an untitled song, with any of those three titles fitting perfectly, so take your pick!). Winking smile

That brings me to a general observation. This was one of the most amazing crowds I’ve been a part of, both for Ian and Chad, and the opener, Elizabeth and the Catapult as well. Absolutely hushed silence during the songs, followed by thunderous (and long) applause, whoops, cat-calls, etc., the second every single song was over. Exactly as it should be for such spectacular performances.

Back to the venue and the promoter. We’ve been to this venue once before, when it was called The Cooper Square Hotel. It was also to see Ian and Chad (though then they were called Ian Axel). That night, they were the openers.

The shows are held in the Penthouse, which I believe has more outdoor than indoor space. The wrap-around deck/terrace is one of the wonders of NYC. While it’s only 24 (or so) floors up, there are no other tall buildings around, so the view is quite sweeping, including the Empire State Building, MetLife and Chrysler Buildings, etc. The start time for the show allows for the full transition from bright sunlight, through twilight, to complete night-time scenes of NYC. That the music complements and exceeds the visuals makes the entire experience all the more amazing.

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Both shows that we attended are part of a series put on by Annie Ohayon, called the Annie O. Music Series. There used to be a page dedicated to that on the Cooper Square site. I’m sure The Standard will put one up when they get around to it.

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Anyway, Annie O. has great taste in music and will continue showcasing Ian and Chad (I believe the next show is on May 7th, same place, with Teddy Geiger opening). She’s already announced a few other acts later this month. Get on her mailing list and be prepared to be wowed by her musical choices and the venue she has partnered with.

Lois didn’t get to capture everyone that we knew who attended, but she caught a representative sample:

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Ian and Chad in a Secret Show at Rockwood Music Hall

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What happens when Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino drop their last names? Awesomeness!

It’s not quite official, but it’s not embargoed either, but the artist formerly known as Ian Axel will soon be known as Ian and Chad. Click that link to see how Ian describes the name change. Basically, it more accurately reflects the contributions that Chad was making all along and is making on stage even more than he used to.

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So, why a secret show? I would assume there are many reasons, but the most obvious are:

  • Rockwood Music Hall is pretty small, and if Ian and Chad had announced the show, many people would have been locked out. Instead, they simply didn’t know to show up. Without any tweets or Facebook updates (that I saw), the place was crowded.
  • With one exception, none of the songs they played have been recorded yet. This gives them an opportunity test things out. Even the one already released song was done very differently.
  • You get to figure out who your leaks are, so you know who not to trust with this kind of information in the future! Winking smile

They opened the show with a new song called Cheer Up. If you watch the video below (of that song), you’ll know what we saw. Ian actually brought that old Casio on stage for this one song and this was the NYC debut of Chad killing it on the triangle:

Ian and Chad perform Cheer Up

After that, Ian moved to the grand piano for all but two songs.

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Right after announcing that all of the songs performed would be unrecorded ones, Ian added: “Except for this one.”

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That turned out to be their most famous number, This is the New Year. I noted above that even here there was a huge twist. Huge indeed (if you’re the groupies that we are, and notice every nuance). Before I get to the twist, let’s have a bit of history about that song.

When they released it, they put up an Official video on YouTube. That garnered over 300,000 plays. Then they signed with a record label who insisted that the video be taken down and put up again on Vevo (a collaboration between YouTube and the music industry). The same video (ever-so-slightly different soundtrack) garnered well over 1,000,000 hits on Vevo (so over 1.3MM between them).

Then they left their record label (very recently) and the video was taken down from Vevo. They had to put it back on YouTube, with the play count zeroed out. Let’s see if we can all get it back up over 1,000,000 again (it certainly deserves to be seen that many times!).

Continuing with the history lesson. Also recently, Ian and Chad held a contest where people submitted their version of that video. Their friends (who are professional videographers and editors) sliced and diced all of the submissions into an incredible montage of fans celebrating this awesome song.

Finally, to celebrate their newfound freedom, Ian and Chad are offering up their CD (the entire thing, not just the song This is the New Year) for the whopping price of Pay Whatever You Want! I strongly suggest $130, to reflect that value of $10/song, though you might wish to pay less, I’ll forgive you. Winking smile Grab it here!

OK, now we can finally return to last night’s performance of that song. Whew.

They created a mirror image of the song, by switching vocal roles. Chad sang all of the parts that Ian normally does (including opening the song) and Ian sang all of Chad’s parts.

It was totally cool, and each did an incredible job. That is until the soft bridge where Ian nearly whispers: “I pass it back to you”.

Chad didn’t start to sing it, because his brain was expecting Ian to. He realized it halfway through the sentence (and the surrounding silence), laughed, and picked it up exactly where he should have been.

In addition to the debut of the triangle in the opener, Chad debuted a solo song on the acoustic guitar. He finger-picked a gut-wrenching love song, beautifully. So, we’ve now seen him play a trumpet, keyboards, guitar and a triangle. What will he break out next?

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Ian and Chad then invited up a special guest.

Mike Campbell joined for two numbers. He sang and played acoustic guitar on both. On the first, Shorty Don’t Wait (or simply Shorty to most fans), Ian came out from behind the piano to play the ukulele. They were fantastic. Every time they play the song, it seems to me that Mike tries to top the previous little bridge guitar lead. Last night’s was definitely fast and tasty.

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Ian returned to the piano to play another song that the three of them co-wrote, Amory. Three part harmony washed over the audience. Gorgeous!

Ian played a song solo on the piano, which was inspired by his love for his parents. When he introduced it, he said it would have been more difficult to sing if his parents were there. Someone in the back of the crowd yelled: “We are!”, which got Ian (and the rest of us) laughing. Beautiful song!

Ian and Chad performed at least three other songs together. Very early in the set they did Rockstar, a song I could listen to 1000 times in a row and still ask “Can you play it again?”. Toward the end of the set they played You’ll Be OK (another incredible song).

They closed the show with one of our favorite songs (not just of theirs, but in general). It’s a song that goes by many names (Homeward Bound, The More We Love, I Really Want It), none of which are official, since they haven’t named it yet.

In that song there is a piano bridge that always dazzles every audience that hears it. That was true last night too, but because Rockwood is small, the crowd was big, and you could hear a pin drop while he was playing it (meaning, everyone was appropriately silent), the collective (reflexive) whoop when Ian finished was amazing (like a group exhalation after surviving a straight drop on the world’s tallest roller coaster).

What a show, shared with a ton of friends, some of whom we haven’t seen in a while. Just chatting with them for a few minutes before and after the show was worth going out for, but the show itself was the cake, they were the icing.

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LinaHadar

Rock Talk with Ian Axel at Feinstein’s Hosted by Phil Lipof

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Another Monday, another excruciatingly difficult choice of shows to see. There were four can’t miss ones all going on at the same time. This week’s calculus was radically different than last, but after crunching the numbers, we ended up selecting the same group of performers.

Ian Axel appeared on Rock Talk, hosted by ABC’s Phil Lipof. The event (it’s not just a show) was held at Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency Hotel. We selected this over the other shows because of the format. Rock Talk is a mix of interviews and performance. Phil Lipof interviews the performers about the specific songs, their writing process, motivations, experiences, etc.

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Given that Phil is an award winning Anchor and Reporter, the concept intrigued us. Phil was masterful (no surprise).

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Phil started by introducing Ian and asking a few questions. Then Ian played Waltz. The evening was sponsored by Gibson Guitar Corp., makers of Gibson Guitars and Baldwin Pianos. Ian sat behind a gorgeous looking and sounding Baldwin Grand Piano.

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My guess is that most of the people in the room were familiar with Ian’s music. Some may never have seen him perform live before. Phil was among the latter, familiar with the music, watched the videos, but was finally experiencing it first hand. Waltz, on a grand piano, with a good sound system, in an intimate room, is a perfect way to be introduced to Ian.

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The expression on Phil’s face when Ian’s hands were flying up and down the keyboard was priceless. When the song was over, Phil told us that he wished there was an overhead camera so that we could all see what he was seeing. Typically, the piano is turned sideways (parallel to the stage) so half the audience can see the keyboard. Last night, it was perpendicular, so only Phil could see the keyboard.

That made for a number of amusing moments (to me). When Ian plays solos (meaning, when he’s not singing), he often tilts his head to one side or the other, getting lost in the music. Last night, given the angle of the piano, that meant that Ian completely disappeared from view, creating the impression that we were watching a player piano. At those moments, watching Phil’s face gave you a sense of the magic happening just out of sight.

Phil continued interviewing Ian, telling us that we were about to hear a song that was very different from Waltz. He was right, Say Something is different in every way. Ian talked about the inspiration for the song, how long it took to write, how and why it was started on piano (the writing) but finished on the ukulele.

He then played it for us. Phil summed it up by saying that even though he hadn’t gone through the same experience Ian did, his heart was breaking nonetheless while listening to Ian sing. I agree (though I have experienced exactly what Ian was singing about, long ago).

He then switched gears again, introducing Gone and explaining what he (Phil) found out during his research watching YouTube videos and reading the comments. He mentioned he had heard Ian’s Mom didn’t particularly care for that song. He then called out to ask whether she still felt that way. A second later Ian’s Mom called back “It’s not my favorite!”. That got a huge chuckle.

Ian’s family was well represented, including his Grandfather and Grandmother who drove up from Florida. I so enjoyed meeting them before the show and getting to chat a bit.

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Switching gears again, Phil talked about the fact that many people compare Ian to a young Elton John. After asking Ian some questions about that, he mentioned that Elton John has had a lifelong writing partner in Bernie Taupin. Phil asked Ian a lot of questions about his writing partner, Chad Vaccarino.

He asked him how they met and Ian told a funny story, which culminated in Chad buying Ian a singing lesson, starting Ian down the road that we’re all lucky to be a part of. When Phil brought Chad up on stage, the first thing he asked was whether Chad remembers it the same way Ian does. Chad burst out laughing saying “Yes, that’s exactly how it happened, even though it sounds unbelievable.” Smile

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Musically, the gears shifted again, dramatically. Ian and Chad performed Rockstar. Such an awesome song, performed to perfection.

More interviewing (you get the format by now, right?), with both Ian and Chad. Followed by more gear shifting. During this round of interviews, they talked about another friend/singer/songwriter who they met in college (NYU), Mike Campbell. Chad was in a band with Mike before either of them met Ian.

Chad has written a number of great songs with Mike. Lately, Mike has been joining Ian and Chad from some writing sessions. They’ve already played a couple of those on stage (most recently, Amory), proving that this triumvirate will continue writing great songs.

Mike was called up to play a song with them. Given that this event was sponsored by Gibson, Mike didn’t have to provide his own guitar (though I’m pretty sure he had it there just in case). Gibson had a guitar all tuned and ready to go for Mike.

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They played Shorty Don’t Wait (a song that Mike didn’t co-write with them, but plays often, always creating an extra bit of magic when he does). This is the only song that Ian left the Baldwin for, picking up us ukulele. Something was wrong with the electronics and Ian couldn’t get the uke to be amplified.

Rather than waste time figuring it out, he asked Chad and Mike, and the rest of us, if we’d be OK doing it completely acoustic. Everyone agreed. Mike unplugged the Gibson, and they pushed the microphones out of the way so that the vocals were acoustic as well.

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The result? Awesome.

When Mike left the stage, the house lights signaled Phil that the show was nearing an end. He asked whether we wanted one more song before shutting down. Ha! Ian selected You’ll Be OK, and he and Chad killed it. It took a long time for the applause to die down (that was true after every song).

It was also clear that people wanted at least one more song. Phil seemed willing to push the venue for one more and no one in the audience wanted to leave. With some reluctance (I’m not sure why), Ian agreed to sing their newest song (as yet untitled, I continue to lobby for The More We Love). Who did Ian agree with? Let’s just say someone called it out repeatedly, enthusiastically, from the audience, using a different working title: Homeward Bound (no, not the Simon and Garfunkel one).

What a spectacular way to end an incredible evening. The applause lasted even longer, because even many of Ian’s die-hard fans haven’t seen this song yet (Ian joked that it was still being written while they were performing it!). I should mention that this last round of applause came in the form of a long standing ovation.

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Many people milled about for quite a while after the show was over, the glow was still too warm to want to let go. Right before we headed out we went over to say a quick goodbye to Ian. He was standing with a good friend of his, Philip Ettinger.

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Lois got there before I did. When I made my way there, I burst out with: “I bet Lois just told you that we saw you on TV!”. Indeed, that’s what Lois had just done. Smile

Just this week we watched Phil as the special guest star on CBS’ Blue Bloods (we love that show). Phil was outstanding in a very dark role as the evil perp (oops, too late to say spoiler alert). I teased Ian that this blog would likely be all about Phil. Winking smile

After the show, Mike told me that the Gibson guitar was great. Lois tracked down their representative (Suzanne) to tell her how much we appreciated their sponsorship.

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I’m sure we missed three other amazing shows, but at least we didn’t regret the choice we made!

In addition to the great show/interviews, we got there really early to enjoy a meal with many of our friends. For anyone considering going to Feinstein’s for a meal (whether that includes a show or not), let me say that the food was fantastic, as was the service. It’s not cheap (OK, it’s actually on the expensive side), but the quality was so good that I don’t have any complaint, just letting you know what to expect.

We got there a few minutes after the doors opened at 6pm. The show wasn’t scheduled to begin until 8:30. I admit to being a little worried about lingering over a meal for 2.5 hours, including wondering whether our friends would show up early or late.

Nearly everyone showed up early and more than 10 of us enjoyed the meal, drinks and non-stop conversations until the second the show started (right on time). The evening would have been a phenomenal success if we had stopped after the meal. Thankfully, it only got better from there.

(Apologies for the grainy photos, which were taken without flash)

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Ian Axel at Cooper Square Hotel

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This is CMJ week in NYC. Think of it as our SXSW (since I’ve never to been to the real SXSW, I won’t compare them). That means that there are a ton of choices to see amazing music all day and night, for 7+ days. That makes it even more difficult than it sometimes is to just pick one.

Last night we had to choose from three shows that we would have loved to attend (next Monday, there are four can’t-miss shows, three of which we’ll obviously miss…). Matt Simons and Chris Ayer performed in Brooklyn back-to-back last night. We missed that. There were nine singer/songwriters performing at City Winery (“The 9 Songwriter Series”), which included a number of our favorites (that was brutal to pass on).

There are a number of criteria that we use to break these impossible ties. Last night we chose based on the venue.

Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell were the opening act in the penthouse at the Cooper Square Hotel. The penthouse is home to the Annie O. Music Series, run by Annie Ohayon of Annie O. Media. Here’s the description of the series:

The Annie O. Music Series is a monthly showcase for musicians around the city and the world. Curated by former music publicist Annie Ohayon, the series is open to the public and attendance is first-come, first-served.  Drinks are available for purchase at the bar.  The concerts take place in The Cooper Square Hotel’s scenic 21st floor penthouse, which provides a breathtaking backdrop and 360-degree views of New York.

Let me paraphrase why we went: “Blah blah blah… breathtaking backdrop and 360-degree views of New York.” Calm down folks, the “blah blah blah” part was a joke. I just wanted to highlight the purported views.

Purport no longer, the views are stunning. Some feeble shots from a compact camera (no justice to the actual views).

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You can also see the other direction in two of the darker shots below during the intro and performance.

We arrived around 7pm. The show was supposed to begin around 7:30pm. The best laid plans…

The headlining group is from France, The Two. If I understood correctly (I wasn’t there, so I might have this very wrong), when Ian plugged in his electronic keyboard, he plugged it into a power strip that the French group had put out. Somehow, this was connected to a Euro power supply (must be 220v). Ian’s keyboard fuses melted.

Ian scrambled and rented a keyboard for the night from The Guitar Center. He was back by 7:30, but not ready to play. So, we got to hear a bit of the sound check for the temporary keyboard and Ian’s vocals. Let’s turn to the Judges on the sound check: 6.5. Uh oh. There was a sound guy there, and he did end up at the floor near Ian’s monitor, but who knows what kind of adjustment he made.

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The show began at 8pm, with Annie O. introducing the evening and Ian Axel specifically. She invited people to sit on the floor if they wanted (it was very crowded by then, inside and on the mind-bogglingly incredible wrap-around deck). Two rows of people spontaneously sat down (as if Annie had a Svengali-like hold on them). Perfect, since I was in the third row and now had a dead-center unobstructed view. Smile

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Ian opened solo with Waltz. It was a CMJ miracle. The sound was flawless. I don’t know what magic this sound guy invoked, but he nailed it. Considering that the show was built around The Two, I was shocked to see that nearly everyone in the room was not only familiar with Ian’s music, but knew Waltz really well.

3/4’s of the way into the song, Ian abruptly stops singing and playing. In early shows (and still in a number of out-of-town ones), quite a number of people start applauding (naturally, the song definitely feels like it’s over). Not a single person clapped. Ian seems to feed on that silence, so he often stretches it out, almost daring someone in the room to clap. No one took his bait.

When he really finished the song, the place erupted. You had to be there to appreciate the beauty of dead silence in a crowded room, followed by deafening applause.

Ian invited Chad Vaccarino up and they sang one of their newer songs, Rockstar. Such a great song, such a great performance of it. Another crushing round of applause.

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I may have the order of the next two songs wrong (flip them in your mind if you were there).

You’ll Be OK was next, another winner.

They followed that with their newest song (only played in public for the first time 10/6/2011). I call it “The More We Love”. They won’t call it that, so at some point (when they name it), these posts will seem silly or quaint. Winking smile

When this song is recorded properly, if it doesn’t hit the charts, it will be because of a vast name-your-paranoid-delusion conspiracy. It’s the real deal. Unless everyone had been at Bess Rogers CD Release Show (where Ian debuted the song), I’m betting it was new to most of the people in the room. You couldn’t tell by the reaction, since the reaction to every song was thunderous.

Ian invited Mike Campbell to join them. They performed Shorty. One of my favorite songs, done in my favorite way, with Chad singing all of the verses (the choruses are three-part harmony). Mike always take a short but very sweet lead after one of the verses. Last night he went for broke and pulled off a really hard (and fast) lead. Awesome! Well done Mike!

Mike was totally obscured from the camera while he was playing, so you’ll have to settle for this great shot of him (unfortunately ruined by having me in the photo) from before the show:

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Ian announced that the next song would be their last. They played their signature, This is the New Year. Another incredible performance.

The crowd was so loud that Annie O. stepped in and asked Ian to play one more (thanks Annie!). A few people called out for Amory (which would have been awesome), but Ian decided to depress all of us instead. Winking smile

He closed the set solo with Say Something. I’ve seen it many times and loved it every time. I have to say that last night was perhaps the most emotionally charged delivery. What a way to end a set that was equally matched by the setting.

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Most unfortunately, we had to run when the set was over (it started later than expected and went over by a song as well), so we had to miss The Two. Given Annie’s taste, I’m sure they were amazing as well. Hopefully we’ll catch them some other time.

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Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Last night was Bess Rogers CD Release Party for Out of the Ocean. It was a three-hour, three-act show. I’m going to post about each act separately.

Ian Axel was the middle act. He started playing seconds after Allie Moss walked off the stage. For people that know Ian’s music, it was obvious that his set began (he was playing the intro to Waltz). For people who didn’t know his music, I bet some thought he was just tickling the ivories between sets.

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By the time he started singing, he had everyone’s attention. After playing such an energetic song, Ian announced that he was about to depress us. He played the always wonderful Say Something.

Ian then brought up his writing partner, Chad Vaccarino. They debuted a song (I believe this was the first time it’s ever been played in public). They didn’t name it and there wasn’t a set list. I call it The More You Love, but I’m willing to bet $1 that they won’t call it that (the challenge is on).

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This song is awesome. Ian and Chad sing together so amazingly (always, but this number really highlights their skill). At one point in the song Ian takes a piano solo that had a palpable effect on crowd. Lois captured the speed in this shot:

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Ian and Chad then played You’ll Be OK, and amazingly, we all were. Smile

Ian invited Mike Campbell up. It’s been over four months since we’ve seen Mike perform with Ian and Chad. Those of us who were used to seeing Mike join them regularly were excited before Mike even hit the stage. While Mike holds his own, the real magic comes from Ian and Chad elevating their game (how is that even possible?). They love playing with Mike and it shows. We love listening to them with Mike, so it’s a symbiotic relationship all around.

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Ian switched from the piano to the ukulele and they played Shorty Don’t Wait. As many times as we’ve seen (and loved) Shorty, this was one of the most special versions. For the past few months, Ian and Chad have worked special guests into this song, giving the second verse to the guest. Each has done a fantastic job, and I’ve noted it, but last night the song was sung as it was destined to be performed.

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This is basically Chad’s song. He sang all the verses, with Ian and Mike singing three-part harmony on the chorus and providing the instrumentation. Simply perfect.

Ian returned to the piano with Mike remaining on stage. They played another new song (it was debuted a month ago at Bowery Ballroom). It’s called Amory and was co-written by all three of them. We loved it the first time we heard it, but this was the first time we got to hear it with Mike. Fantastic.

Mike left the stage and Ian and Chad finished up with their signature song, This is the New Year. An absolutely incredible set.

I mentioned in the previous post (about Allie Moss) that we saw the Intergalactic Tour three times last month. One of those times was at a fantastic house concert hosted by Lindsie. She made the herculean effort of taking Amtrak up after work to attend this show. We sat with her and captured this shot of Chad coming over to say hi before the show started:

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Martin Rivas, Mike Campbell and Chelsea Lee at Rockwood Music Hall

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We saw three consecutive sets last night at Rockwood Music Hall. I could write about them in any order (they were independent) but I’ll write about them in reverse order (which is the usual order here) because that’s the order in which I heard about the sets and therefore dictated our planning the night out.

We’ve seen Mike Campbell a number of times now, solo, in a duet with Chad Vaccarino and with Chad and Ian Axel as well. We enjoy all of the variations. He’s a good songwriter and his collaborations with Chad Vaccarino produce gorgeous songs.

Mike was up at 11pm last night, typically too late for us, but he doesn’t play that often and we decided not to miss the opportunity. Aside from the earlier sets (which we enjoyed!), I’m glad we came out for Mike (on a monsoon-like night), because he surprised us by switching to an electric guitar from his usual acoustic one.

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I will admit that more often than not, I really don’t like a solo singer accompanied by only an electric guitar. Mike made it work really well. I mentioned that to him after the show. The only exception was his song Come Home, where he strummed the guitar a little harder and somewhat overwhelmed his vocals.

One of our favorite songs is Days Gone By co-written with Chad. We’ve seen them perform it with Chad in the lead and with Mike in the lead. Last night was the first time we’ve seen it completely solo. Mike did a wonderful job. I can’t say I wouldn’t have liked hearing the harmony, but to be honest, if this was the first time I ever heard the song, I wouldn’t have known the harmony was missing and I still would have thought it’s a great song.

Of the three solo sets we’ve seen Mike perform, this was the strongest, so he continues to grow as a performer.

I had tweeted to Mike in advance that we might not make it out that late. Even though we were committed to trying, finding out a short time later that Martin Rivas was performing the set before (10pm) sealed the deal for us.

We’ve seen Martin many times, as recently as two weeks ago, but it’s been nine months since we’ve seen him perform a purely solo set (even that night, he was joined on vocals for two songs by Chrissi Poland). We love Martin’s upbeat full band shows, but I have to admit (after the fact) that seeing him captivate the audience with nothing but his voice and acoustic guitar last night reminded me that there are many ways to enjoy Martin’s music.

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It was so quiet when Martin performed (a difficult thing to imagine at Rockwood) that a number of times, I caught myself feeling that I was the only person in the audience. Hearing the roar of the applause after each song brought me back to reality. It’s so great to really listen without distraction. Nicely done Martin and Rockwood crowd!

Martin performed four new songs that will appear on his upcoming CD (hopefully out later this year) which will be produced by Alex Wong. All four songs were excellent. In addition, we were treated to other favorite Martin Rivas songs, including one Lois called out (but Martin already had on his set list), Raise Me Again.

Craig Meyer joined Martin on his last number, playing just the tambourine. I’ll still call this a solo show and feel good about it. Smile

A great set shared with a great audience.

Once we knew we’d be going for the 10pm set, we checked out who was on at 9pm so we could raise our chances of getting seats for Martin’s show.

Chelsea Lee was listed. We saw Chelsea Lee open for Girlyman at Birchmere in October 2008. She was 17 at the time. Her voice was stunning but the set didn’t do it for us (I’m not linking to that post, but if you’re really curious, you can easily find it). After that night, I wasn’t on the lookout to see her again, but this turned out to be an easy way to see if she’d matured in the 2.5 years since, so we both happily agreed to see Chelsea as well.

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I am very glad that we decided to go. I enjoyed the set a lot. In a not-so-small irony, I don’t think her voice was anywhere near as good as it was back then. It’s still gorgeous, but it’s smokier now, a little more rounded (reminded me loosely of Rosi Golan). But, the material was dramatically better (IMO).

ChelseaLeeSinging

There were a few slower numbers (which I liked as well), with the majority of them being more upbeat light pop, very well executed. After the show, we bought her 5-song EP from her Dad. I listened to it this morning and I like it a lot. She has come a very long way since we last saw her and I will be happy to see her again.

Chelsea was accompanied by two people:

Wes Hutchinson on acoustic guitar and vocals. We’ve seen Wes once before, briefly, at the Haiti Benefit in January 2010. I liked him then, but didn’t get enough of a sense. He’s a staple in the NYC scene, but our schedule hasn’t worked out to see his own sets just yet.

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Wes did an excellent job last night of accompanying Chelsea on the guitar and his vocals were spot on. When they sang together, it also reminded me (a little, don’t draw too strong a parallel) of The Open Sea (the collaboration of Ari Hest and Rosi Golan, which is another reason I compared Chelsea to Rosi above).

I don’t know how Chelsea (based in DC) hooked up with Wes (based in NYC), but it’s a very good fit.

Spencer Cohen on cajon, tambourine, shaker and cymbal. Very nicely done. While I could hear every beat on the cajon, it didn’t seem to be mic’ed the way Alex Wong’s is. Somehow, Alex produces a much richer sound on the cajon, but that seems like an easy problem to solve. Spencer has the talent.

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When I checked the schedule, I saw that Drew Yowell was playing the 8pm set. We’ve never seen him, but we’ve seen his brother (Doug Yowell) drum for both Vienna Teng and Katie Costello. I had an interest in checking him out, but not in sitting in Rockwood for four hours, so I decided to look for Doug another time.

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Even though the weather was bad, we made better time getting to Rockwood than we anticipated, so we caught the last four songs of Doug’s set.

Guess what? I really liked it (OK, to be honest, I really liked three of the four songs).

Drew sings really well, plays the acoustic guitar nicely and was accompanied by as many as six people (that’s a lot for Rockwood 1) on two of the songs. The upbeat numbers are infectious. I purposely stood for all four songs and found my foot tapping and body swaying during those songs.

Since we came late, I didn’t hear the introductions to his band. They were good. The only one we’ve seen before was the drummer, who I recognized instantly.

Chris Benelli played the drums. The only other time we’ve seen him was in March 2010 when he accompanied Bryan Dunn. This makes for two separate small-world stories.

First, that same night was the first time we ever saw Doug Yowell play the drums, in the set following Bryan’s, accompanying Vienna Teng. That Chris is the drummer for Doug’s brother, Drew Yowell, feel’s small world-ish to me.

Second, on Friday night I wrote about a bass player, Jim McNamara, who also plays with Bryan Dunn, a name I hadn’t written about since we saw him the night we saw Chris Benelli. All good memories, brought back in focus by Drew Yowell. Cool.

Even though we didn’t get home until midnight, in a monsoon-level rain, it was more than worth it. We had a great night out.

Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell at VA House Concert

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We’re missing some mind-bogglingly good music in NYC this week (and next). Is there a cure for that? Yes, catching Ian Axel on consecutive nights, in different settings.

Our two most recent Ian Axel concerts were both big stage, full band, crowded standing audience venues. We’ve seen Ian solo and acoustic before, but nothing like last night. Ian, Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell appeared last night in Northern Virginia (NoVA) at a house concert organized by two of their many super fans (our heartfelt thanks go out to Lindsie and Sara for putting this together!).

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House concerts vary in so many ways (so far, we’ve loved every one we’ve been at). Last night had a big crowd (75 confirmed in advance). Consistent with the other ones, there was no amplification of anything other than Ian’s electronic keyboards (he debuted a new amp that was set at just the right volume). Vocals, guitar and ukulele were all au natural.

That was a huge difference. Even for a solo show at Rockwood, Ian/Chad/Mike are mic’ed for vocals and guitar. That introduces a number of things, including the skill and mood of the sound engineer that night, plus your physical placement from the speaker(s) (rather than from the performer). Last night we were six feet away from the actual mouths producing the sounds.

Ian kicked off his set with Leave Me Alone! Of course it was great, but it also set the tone for the rest of the set nicely. Sitting to my left were a mother/daughter. The daughter finished her Masters in NYC last summer and moved back to NoVA. She is (and was) a fan of Ian’s and saw many shows in NYC when she lived there. Right after Ian sings the first verse, there is a fun clapping part (both on the record and at all of his live shows).

IanAxelSinging

I badly wanted to clap, but admit to not doing it. Lisa (the daughter, two seats to my left) started clapping. I joined in instantly (and looked over to thank her for doing it!). I can’t imagine the tension that would have built up inside me if I didn’t get to clap along. Of course, everyone sang the ask/answer It’s Not Easy part (could even have been 100% participation, it certainly sounded like it).

The same song set the tone in another way as well. One of the lines is “Take all your sh*t, I’m over it”. Given that there were a few kids there, Ian switched it to “Take all your stuff” and of course, couldn’t rhyme it. We all laughed, as did Ian. Smile Next time, I suggest: “Take all your stuff, I’ve had enough!”. Winking smile

I am sure I could reconstruct the entire set list from memory, but I would probably get the order wrong, so I’ll just mention a few songs in context. I think the second/third songs were The Music that Haunts this Town morphing into Waltz. I mention it because of the long instrumental lead. You could have heard a pin drop people were so respectful of Ian’s incredible piano play (and likely mesmerized, since we could easily see his fingers fly up and down the keyboard).

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Ian introduced a number of the songs with his classic self-effacing style (privately we describe it as impish, but now I’ve outed us). He got big laughs a number of times, including his introduction to Gone. Of course, no laughter whatsoever during the playing of the very emotional Gone.

Ian played the equally heart-tugging Say Something (after another moving intro) to end the first solo-section of his set. He then called Chad Vaccarino up to join him. The two of them performed You’ll Be OK. We had already gotten more than just a taste of Chad’s magic earlier (I’ll get to that shortly), so it wasn’t a surprise to see them nail this.

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Ian invited Mike Campbell up. Ian came out from behind the keyboards and took out his ukulele. The three of them played Pacific Sun. They followed that up with a song we’d never heard before (something like “Down to the River”, but not exactly that). More gorgeous three-part harmony!

After that, back to some more solo Ian. He sang a song about his sister that he was worried he would mess up, since he rarely plays it. He needn’t have worried, beautiful! Since I’m mentioning most of the songs anyway, I’ll add that one of the solo numbers was Afterglow.

Then Ian called Chad back up and announced that they were about to play his single. Before he started, he said he wanted to dedicate it to the kids of our hostess. She replied that they just went up to bed, but that the little girl would be very upset if she missed this one. She asked Ian to wait a minute as she went up to get the kids. You could hear them running down the stairs with excitement, it was too cute for words.

I’m sure people would have been happy to show up just to hear this song. Smile

Ian called Mike back up again and the three of them closed the show with Shorty Don’t Wait. I could listen to them sing this song 100 times in a row and not get tired of it. Each of them does their part so well and when the three sing together (especially the last line a cappella) it’s magic.

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The feeling in the room was extraordinary. For a few minutes, no one wanted to get up from their seats because it would mean that the evening had ended. We had a one-hour drive back to the hotel so we finally did get up, say our thank yous and goodbyes and hit the road.

Mike Campbell opened the show solo. He performed five numbers accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar. We’ve seen Mike perform solo before, but this too was special. Without a microphone or an amplified guitar, we got to appreciate him opening up his voice a bit more. He nailed each song and the crowd let him hear it (very sustained applause after each number, which of course, Ian got as well).

Apologies for how dark many of theses photos are:

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Mike invited Chad up and they sang Days Gone By (a song they wrote together). Wow. We’ve seen them perform it before with Mike singing the lead, last night they switched and Chad took the lead. Chad is a very emotive singer to begin with and I was curious what he would sound like un-mic’ed. Holy cow, he was perfect.

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They played a song we hadn’t heard before (another co-write) called something like Don’t Worry (but that’s not it exactly). Another winner. Then they called Ian up.

This created a Three Stooges like comedy moment. Mike and Chad were sitting on tall bar stools (as you can see from the above photos). Chad pulled out the small piano stool from behind the keyboard and placed it between the stools for Ian to sit on. Ian pointed out that he would be really short sitting there and offered to switch with Chad. Of course, Chad being the shortest of the three couldn’t readily accept the logic of that offer.

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After a bit more milling around, they agreed to all stand (as you can see). Smile

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They performed another song that Chad and Mike co-wrote, All the Love. Another wow. Ian and Chad write amazingly well together, but so do Chad and Mike.

In addition to organizing an amazing show, our lovely ladies (Lindsie and Sara) had a great spread to eat. Most notable were the special Ian Axel Fortune Cookies! Each fortune was a song lyric. Brilliant and totally appropriate as real fortunes!

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Tonight we get to repeat most of the joy (Mike won’t be joining them) at Jammin’ Java (again in NoVA). Can’t wait!

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Mike Campbell and Jerry Fuentes at Rockwood Music Hall

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Another day, another very late night, again the need/desire to split the music into two posts.

First up, back-to-back sets at Rockwood Music Hall. The sets were related in that both headliners performed one song on the other’s set, and each had the same special guest appear. Otherwise, nothing remotely similar about the music.

Mike Campbell played his first-ever solo show on November 20th, 2010. I covered it in this post. Last night was his second effort. It was similar in some sense, radically different in others. The similarities were good set selection, good guitar play, nervous banter (perhaps not as much as he did the first time).

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The differences: much stronger voice (Mike had a bad cold the last time), guest performers (he wanted the first solo show to be about him only, correctly so!).

Mike played a number of songs from the first show, but also added brand new and older tunes to the set.

He called up three different guests, in three different configurations. First up, the headliner of the next set.

Jerry Fuentes joined Mike to play electric guitar and sing a bit of harmony, including leading the audience in a refrain at the end of the song (which was a lot of fun to join in on). It was my first time seeing Jerry (I met him for a second the night before at Mona’s). The song they performed was great (of course, I don’t recall the name now, sorry!). I’ll have a lot more to say about Jerry below when I cover his set.

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A few solo numbers again, then Mike called up the next guest.

Chad Vaccarino joined him to sing a song they co-wrote in June, Days Gone By. When they announced the song, I thought they were about to do a cover of Keith Urban. Nope, just the same title, nothing else similar about the songs.

Here’s a YouTube video of their debut performance of the song last June (it appears to be at a house concert). In the video, Chad is singing lead. Last night, Mike sang lead. In both, Mike played the guitar, beautifully! They should perform this song much more often:

Days Gone By–Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell

Immediately thereafter, Mike called Ian Axel to the stage, with Chad staying up there. All three joked about the fact that they were about to perform the song standing up, something they’d never done before. They sang All the Love, co-written by Mike and Chad. It was perfect. The YouTube video below again has Chad singing lead. Last night, Mike nailed the lead, with Chad and Ian harmonizing.

All the Love by Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell, guest star Ian Axel

If I understand correctly, Mike arranged the harmonies. After the show, I went up to Mike to tell him how awesome it was. Watching the videos above gave me a new round of re-enjoying last night’s show.

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Mike writes beautiful songs all by himself, no doubt, but his collaborations with Chad Vaccarino are simply amazing.

When Mike was done, Jerry got on the stage immediately. Since Mike had only an acoustic guitar, they had set the stage up for Jerry in advance and there was no transition time at all.

Having never see Jerry before, I had no idea what to expect.

He’s an excellent lead guitarist (smooth, fast and interesting). He has an excellent voice. He also played the harmonica on many of the numbers, something I’m less used to seeing in a rock set than a folk set, but Jerry made it work well.

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I would describe the majority of the set as ballad/anthem style rock. There were a couple of exceptions. If you click on Jerry’s name at the top, his site starts streaming music instantly (not something I think sites should do), so you can get your own sense of his style.

Since Jerry began immediately after Mike’s set, he opened with the one song that Mike joined him on. They sang and played well together. Mike then left the stage and Jerry turned up the heat.

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Jerry was accompanied by two band members for all but two songs:

Mike Tuccillo on the electric bass. I just saw Mike for the first time two nights earlier at the Soul Revue Benefit. He was very good that night, but I couldn’t see him, mixed in among the 14 other people on stage. Last night, I was a few feet away from him and could appreciate his technique a lot more. Very well done.

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Aaron Steele on drums. Aaron is a real hitter (very powerful). That can be a great thing, especially for rock songs. The only problem was that my right ear was perhaps two feet from the drum set, so it took me a while to get used to it. Aside from that, Aaron was impressive. In particular, on the last song of Jerry’s set (not including the encore), Aaron was incredible on the drums, very fast, totally clean, still hard hitting. Also very well done.

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Ian Axel joined Jerry for five numbers. Ian played the piano on all of them, singing on one (or two?). The band sounded pretty full without Ian, but adding Ian’s heart-pounding piano to the mix took it up a notch. This capped off a pretty big day in Ian’s (and Chad’s) life. Earlier, they were featured on the Rachael Ray Show on national TV!

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Ian performed the title song from his upcoming CD (This is the New Year, out in a couple of weeks!). Rachael Ray also posted a bonus song, Girl I Got a Thing, that Ian played for the live audience while the credits were running for the rest of us. Great job!

Two of the numbers that Ian joined on were exceptions to the rock style. One is a brand new song of Jerry’s that will be on his upcoming CD. It’s called Standing in Line. I am not linking to the online video he has of it, because last night’s version was 100x better. Just wait until the CD is out and get it. The song highlights Jerry’s lyrical abilities. He also played it on the acoustic guitar, taking the entire sound down.

He tried to get off the stage, but the crowd wasn’t having any of that. He got permission to sing one more. He and Ian performed it alone. A lovely way to close a very good set.

Jerry is a theatrical performer and the band played quite loud. Rockwood 1 is not the perfect venue for that kind of music, partially due to the sheer loudness in such a small space. I think Jerry can command a much larger stage in a larger venue and be perfectly suited to it.

Once I gave Jerry my compliments, we were off next door (literally) to Rockwood 2. The two posts are really unrelated, so I won’t even link them to each other (like I did last night). If you’re interested in what I did next, you’ll have to use some of your Internet skills to find my next post. Winking smile

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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Mike Campbell at Rockwood Music Hall

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What happens when a nice, smart, funny, talented musician tweets that he is performing his first-ever solo show? Wait, before you answer, what if I tell you that he only has 49 followers on Twitter (I’m one of them)? OK, time’s up, I’ll just give you the correct answer:

People fill up Rockwood Music Hall to support him and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless he lied to us, or to a future audience!). Winking smile Seriously, the place was jammed, so the word spread much faster and further than his Twitter follower count would suggest.

There’s little doubt that Mike Campbell was nervous. Is there any artist in the world that wasn’t when they debuted? The test (of course) is how they handle that nervousness. Mike passed with flying colors.

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He took control of the room with his conversation, not just his music. He turned little slips into funny and memorable moments. For example, he gave an intro to a song, then played the song. Immediately afterward, he asked the crowd if they noticed that the song didn’t match the intro? Oops, he intro’ed a song he was going to play later in the set list. Smile

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Let’s answer the most important question of the night: was the music good?

Yes!

Mike is a very good songwriter. I was impressed that the songs varied as much from each other. Mike is stretching early in trying to say different things, but also say them in different ways. He also has the ability to write songs that grab you the first time you hear them (not as easy as you might think).

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After he played Paper Heart, Lois turned to me and said “Amazing! I love that song!”. The second the show was over, a friend who was standing 10 feet away during the show walked up to me and said “Wow, Paper Heart is a real winner, don’t you think?”. Yes, I think. Smile

Of course, it wasn’t a flawless performance, but it proved to me (hopefully to Mike too) that he made the right decision to do a solo show. I imagine (actually, I’m sure) that with a few more performances under his belt, his delivery will become polished very quickly. He has all of the ingredients.

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He has one song where he scats while playing the identical notes high up on the guitar. It’s awesome (the guitar playing and the perfectly matched scatting). That said, here’s a public suggestion that I think will make it even awesomer (yes, it’s a word, or needs to be!). Mike, you should scat in harmony with the guitar leads. I personally guarantee that it will blow people’s minds!

Mike, if you take my suggestion, I hereby legally forego my co-writing/producing credits and royalties. (Disclaimer: that only goes for that one song, I’ll take full credit and royalties on all of your other songs!) Winking smile

We’re very glad we got to see Mike’s first solo show and look forward to catching more of Mike Campbell!

Going back to my first sentence, I said that Mike was nice, smart and funny (traits that are independent of his artistic talent). I had no doubt that some/all of it had to come from his parents. After the show, Lois and I met Mike’s parents and now I know for sure that he got a lot of it from them. Absolutely lovely people. Good job raising your son! Smile