Mike Sutton

John Schmitt at Rockwood Music Hall

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John Schmitt headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall last night. We used to see John frequently. I knew it’s been a while (with a couple of near misses recently), but I was actually shocked when I looked it up and saw that it was seven months ago. That’s just crazy talk. Glad to have corrected that.

Let’s the get the important stuff out of the way first. Either someone stole John Schmitt’s beard, and a sizable portion of his girth, or we actually saw an impersonator last night (a pretty darn good one if so). Now we can get on with more mundane things, like the music…

JohnSchmitt

Since it’s been so long, let’s recap the three things that the real John Schmitt has in spades:

  • Great voice
  • Fantastic songwriter
  • Excellent guitar player

(that’s how I was able to judge the potential impersonator, since he possessed two of those qualities. Clearly, if he was stealing John’s songs, I don’t know if he himself is a good songwriter.) Winking smile

There were a number of firsts (for us) in last night’s set:

John introduced his brand new banjitar (that’s a six-string banjo, tuned like a guitar, that sounds like a banjo). It’s a great idea. Lots of excellent guitar players don’t have the time or inclination to study the banjo, but have a few songs that might benefit from that sound. That’s exactly what John did, to perfection.

John birthed two songs publicly (first live performance). Both songs were great. We look forward to hearing them more often and embedding them in our brains like we have the rest of his set list.

John played a solo cover of Cat Stevens’ How Can I Tell You. Wow! He was choked up introducing the song, because he’s currently in a long-distance relationship and singing this song is all too close to home.

John had a full band plus one guest. I knew it would be a full band show, but I admit to being surprised to see two of the members, as in super-delighted-happy surprised. Left-to-right on stage, followed by the guest:

Matt Simons on grand piano, electronic keyboards, and harmony. Surprise #1. We love Matt and we’ll be back at Rockwood on March 31st to see him perform his own stuff, but I didn’t know he’d be supporting John. In addition to being wonderful on the keys (as always), Matt sang a bunch of harmony with John, in particular on Going Back, since Lissa Farquhar (John’s regular singing partner) was very ill and couldn’t make it.

MattSimons

Quick commercial break (someone has to pay the bills here!). Winking smile

Matt just finished recording a new CD in Nashville. He told me last night that it won’t be available until June. But, in the meantime, he’s sharing bits of it with the world. On his Birthday, he tweeted the following:

Matt Simons ? @matt_simons

As promised, here’s some reverse birthday love! It’s link to download a free song from my new album! Hope you enjoy it!noisetrade.com/mattsimons

If I heard him correctly, next week he’ll be doing the same thing with a second song. I’ve already seen a few musicians tweet that they’ve heard the new CD and are in love with it. I can’t confirm or deny whether I’ve had a sneak peek at it, but if I did, I’m sure it’s fantastic. If I didn’t, then I completely trust the folks that said the same thing. Smile

MattSimonsJohnSchmitt

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Brian Killeen on electric bass. Brian was surprise #2, also an awesome one. Even though Brian (one of our favorite bassists) played with John the last time we saw him, that too was a fill in job for John’s regular bass player, Pasquale Chieffalo. Brian was great at that last show, but he was even better last night. Buttery smooth and constantly laying down sophisticated bass lines throughout.

BrianKilleen

Mike Sutton on drums (still can’t find a good individual link). Mike is John’s regular drummer and he’s done a great job at every show that we’ve seen him play. Clearly, he knows John’s music cold and it shows.

MikeSutton

Scott Tofte came up to sing harmony and shake some shakers on two numbers. Beautiful job. He had to consult the lyrics on his iPhone, because he joined John for one of the brand new songs.

ScottTofteScottTofteShakersJohnSmittBanjitar

Here’s the set list:

SetList

I couldn’t stop laughing throughout 7 Drunken Nights.

Lots of familiar faces in the audience, which Lois couldn’t help but document for our memories (and now yours). Smile

JohnSchmittChadVaccarinoLinaIanAxelLeivParton

John Schmitt at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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

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

JohnScmitt

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

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

LissaFarquhar

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

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

JohnScmittLissaFarquhar

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

AlecGross

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

The band, left-to-right on stage:

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

EddieWiernik

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

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

MikeSutton

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

BrianKilleen

Here’s the complete set list:

SetList

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

JohnSchmittBusinessCardFrontJohnSchmittBusinessCardBack

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

LucyJohnSchmitt

John Schmitt Birthday Show at The Living Room

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I seem to be saying this a lot lately: Musicians tend to play on or near their birthday, throwing a party for their fans, even though it’s work for them. That trend continued last night.

John Schmitt celebrated his birthday (and noted that two members of his band/guests had birthdays one day on either side of the show) by playing at The Living Room. He had a full band and some special guests.

JohnSchmitt

We don’t need an excuse (like a mere birthday) to come see John Schmitt. If we can make it, we’ll be there. In fact, during the show, he announced that he’s playing Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, this coming Thursday, at 7pm (also a full-band show). It’s his first time at Rockwood 2, and we’re already committed to being there (you should come too!).

Let’s review why we go see John as often as we can:

  • fantastic voice
  • excellent guitar player
  • terrific band (though he’s superb solo)
  • wonderful songwriter
  • as nice a human being as you could want to meet!

All of the above were there in spades last night.

One of the major differences was no paper set list. John splurged on a new iPad. He had it sitting on a music stand. Since we couldn’t walk away with a set list (I was a little offended that John wouldn’t hand over his iPad for us to take home!), Winking smile we insisted on taking a picture of the iPad with the set list open:

iPadSetList

That’s not the complete list, it’s the songs the band played on. John played at least two songs solo, mid-set, one of them being Ave Regina (more on that later). The other was about his grandfather, called Me and the Chief.

Since all of the song titles above are abbreviated (except the last one), you’ll have to work a bit (or already be a John Schmitt fan!) to figure out the full titles.

I’ll spare you the trouble on the second to last one, listed as Val. That’s actually a song called Valerie. Amy Winehouse covered that song, apparently one of her more famous covers. John wanted to play it as a tribute to Amy, trying to be true to her version.

Let’s mention the band first, then the special guests. Left-to-right on the stage:

Mike Sutton on drums. Here’s what I wrote the only other time I’ve seen Mike play:

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

OK, now that I’ve seen him twice, I can safely say he’s a very good drummer. Toward the end of the set John highlighted him a bit, calling: “Mike, take them to Church!”. Winking smile

MikeSutton

Pasquale Chieffalo on electric bass. Excellent all around bass play (both times that we’ve seen him).

PasqualeChieffalo

John’s regular keyboard player is Greg Barbone. I really like him. He was out-of-town, and recommended a friend of his who recently moved here from LA (or was just visiting, if I misunderstood).

Eddie Wiernik on grand piano. He was superb throughout the set (I bet he had very little rehearsal time, he’s clearly a pro!). John highlighted him a number of times (showing a lot of faith in the new guy). Even when he wasn’t highlighted, he was solidly supporting and enhancing the sound.

EddieWiernik

John sings a few of his songs with fabulous harmonies, often supplied by a number of female vocalists. Last night he brought up someone who was new to us.

Jessica Norland is a singer, actress and dancer (Lois got her business card after the performance, that’s how I know about her other talents). She has an excellent voice and equally impressive stage presence. She sang harmony and lead on Two Souls. We’re both looking forward to seeing/hearing Jessica again.

JessicaNorlandJessicaNorlandJohnSchmitt

Barnaby Bright is an incredible group (duo), comprised of a married couple. We’ve seen them once before, at Jammin’ Java, in a show that also featured John Schmitt, headlined by Chris Ayer. I have been kicking myself ever since that our schedule has collided with the many times that Barnaby Bright have performed.

Becky Bliss (1/2 of Barnaby Bright) came up to sing Going Back. She sang lead on one verse and harmony throughout. I already told you how badly I want to see Barnaby Bright again, so I shouldn’t have to tell you how good Becky sounded, but I will. She was great. Smile

BeckyBlissBeckyBlissJohnSchmitt

Speaking of Going Back, John is raising money to professionally record that song. He needs your help. If you’re already a fan, donating $5 will get you a digital copy of the new song when it’s released. But, if you don’t own John’s CD, Ophelia, you should consider donating $15, which will get you downloads of that CD plus the new song when it’s recorded. Just do it!

Nathan Bliss (the other 1/2 of Barnaby Bright) joined on that song as well. He played the banjo and was given a couple of leads. Nathan is an outstanding musician (with an excellent voice, that he didn’t use last night), but I admit that the banjo (an instrument I love) felt out of place on that song. I’m publicly voting that John not employ it on his recording of Going Back.

NathanBlissBanjo

Later, John invited Nathan back on stage to play the saxophone (I believe on the final number, Musical). Nathan blew everyone away. I told you he’s an outstanding musician. He played sax with John at Jammin’ Java, but it was only the two of them on stage. He was great then, but with the full band behind him he could really open it up (without overwhelming John alone). I loved catching the looks on the faces of those around me. Priceless!

NathanBlissSaxophone

An incredible set, thanks John.

MikeSuttonPasqualeChieffaloEddieWiernikJohnSchmitt

Above, I mentioned that I would have more to say about Ave Regina. At Jammin’ Java, Becky joined John to sing harmony on that song. It was extraordinary. I fell in love with the song on the spot (and I love it even when John sings it solo, like he did last night). But, since Becky was obviously there, I couldn’t help asking John why she didn’t sing it with him.

He said that they didn’t have time to rehearse it (it’s been a while since the Jammin’ Java show). Man, I can’t believe that these artists are such perfectionists and feel the need to rehearse before playing for us. Winking smile Oh well, next time! Smile

If you already forgot my calls-to-action above, you have two tasks:

  1. Donate to John’s Going Back project
  2. Come see John perform this Thursday (8/4/2011) at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, 7pm

Now go enjoy the rest of your day. If you want to enjoy it even more, come join us tonight at 7pm at The Bitter End, to see the wonderful Jesse Terry, supported by the extraordinary Greg Mayo.

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

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

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

I received back the following back from John:

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

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

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

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

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

ChrisAyerSolo

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

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

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

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

ChrisAyerMorganHolland

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

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

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

ChrisAndersonElectricBass

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

StephenChopek

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

MattSimonsMattSimonsSinging

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

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

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

JohnSchmitt

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

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

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

LissaFarquhar

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

JohnSchmittChrisAyer

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

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

GregBarboneOrgan

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

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

BrianKilleen

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

MikeSutton

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

JohnSchmittSetList

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

AndyMac

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

SeanDixonAndyMacHockeyMasksFridayThe13th

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

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

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

AndyMacHorrorDVD

Andy’s band, left-to-right:

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

MalGibbesJimMcNamara

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

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

JimMcNamara

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

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

SeanDixon

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

GregBarbonePiano

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

ShakyDavePollack

Not to slight Andy, here is his set list:

AndyMacSetList

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

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

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

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

KristopherTongMelissaTong

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

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