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Girlyman and Coyote Grace at The Barns at Wolf Trap

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It’s been a little over six months since we’ve seen Girlyman in concert. Any longer than that and I start to twitch. Those of you who know me know I am unabashed in saying that they are my favorite group. For me, that’s quite a statement given how much live music we see (and love!) and how long they’ve held first place (4.25 years and counting!).

Seeing them perform at The Barns at Wolf Trap is always a joy. The place is gorgeous, the acoustics wonderful and the 400-seat venue is always full of people who love them as much as I do (many are more vocal at the performance than I am, so you might mistakenly believe that they love them more). Winking smile

Here are shots of each (so that you know who’s who) taken after the show:

DorisMuramatsuNateBorofskyTyGreenstein

NateBorofskyHadarTyGreenstein

We didn’t spot JJ after the show, but here’s a photo of her on stage:

JJJones

So, why are they so special?

  • All three songwriters (I’m unaware of whether JJ Jones, the drummer, writes any songs), Ty, Doris and Nate are amazing on their own. They often collaborate (probably after one has gotten a song a certain distance) and produce even better efforts (one example is Easy Bake Ovens).
  • Collectively, their body of work is quite large for a group that’s only been together for 10 years (five CDs and counting, with the sixth already in pre-order). I think one of the reasons is that they all write great songs, so they have three times the output that a group might have when they have a lead creative.
  • They produce exquisite albums that can be listened to non-stop on repeat. I have no doubt that this will be true of the new one, Supernova, when it comes out in a few months. You can pre-order yours now (we did, come join us).
    PreorderSupernova
  • Their harmonies are mind-bogglingly beautiful. This actually has little to do with their voices (more on that below) and everything to do with their genius at arranging songs, in particular harmonies. They even teach classes on harmony (sounds like a Master Class to me!).
  • Their live shows are a treat, for their humanity, personality and laugh-out-loud extemporaneous humor. Of course it’s about the live music as well, often because you get to hear brand new songs that will be on forthcoming albums (not necessarily the next one!).

Here’s the set list. It’s sprinkled with brand new songs (a couple we had never heard before, plus two world debuts that no one had heard before!), new-ish songs (which will be on Supernova), old favorites (including the first song off the first album!), requests, etc. It’s one of the highlights of any Girlyman show, knowing in advance that they will surprise you, given the size of their catalog (the two-song encore is not listed):

GirlymanSetList

It also included Hold It All at Bay, my favorite Girlyman song for at least three years running. On some levels, it’s probably still my favorite, but I’m also obsessed with Could Have Guessed (which they didn’t play last night).

TyGreensteinNateBorofsky

Coyote Grace opened the show (you’ll have to read way down to get to that section). I mention them here because they spent a considerable amount of time on stage with Girlyman, individually and collectively. Here’s a shot of Doris, with Ingrid playing the bass (she’s excellent) behind her:

DorisMuramatsuIngridElizabeth

The most notable song (for me) was Everything’s Easy.

It’s an amazing song on a number of levels. As gorgeous as the production is on their latest CD (of the same title), I was much more used to the faster version that I’d heard live many times, which was recorded live, on Somewhere Different Now. So, I love the CD version for it’s quality, but still long to hear it sped up a bit.

Last night they did the slow version, but with a huge twist. Each of the three Coyote Grace people paired up with the Girlyman singers (JJ is reasonably silent during the shows, her drums speak for themselves!). Ingrid shared a mic with Nate, Michael with Ty and Joe with Doris.

The parts that Nate, Ty and Doris do solo (always), were now done in harmony (with the corresponding member of Coyote Grace at the same mic). That was beautiful enough. But, this song builds to two-part, then three-part harmony, with each part singing entirely different words/melodies.

Keep that last part, but add in that each different set of lyrics/melodies is itself being sung in harmony, having six voices sing three different parts, and you have something that I feel feeble in trying to describe. In this case, the slow version was (perhaps more) appropriate, since it made it much easier to shift focus between the three parts and the six different voices.

If you don’t want to read anything negative (even a hint), please stop now, the above should (hopefully) satisfy you.

For those that are reading on, but don’t know me, I’ll give my standard disclaimer that I blog to capture how I felt about each performance. At my age, memory fades fast, and this allows me to recall each show with clarity. I am not a music critic (even a bit, nor do I pretend to be). If others discover music that I love and also enjoy it, that’s a bonus.

We see a lot of shows in NY and VA. In VA, it’s often easier to organize larger groups to see shows together. That’s what happens when we see Girlyman, as I’ve been on a mission to spread their gospel since I first saw them in August 2007. Last night, we had a group of 10 at the Barns. Four of those had never seen Girlyman before.

Last night was our 20th time (give or take one) seeing Girlyman live. I’ve written one negative review, when both Ty and Nate were extremely sick and simply couldn’t deliver their typical performance. The other four in our group last night had all been to that one off show (for two of them, their only Girlyman experience).

Without being overly negative, here’s the difference between most Girlyman shows and last night: most Girlyman shows are magic, start-to-finish. Last night (and a very few others) have numerous magical moments, interspersed with too much thinking (referring to me, not being lost in the moment).

Part of my personal problem comes from the fact that we’re constantly introducing new people to the group. That makes me try to hear each show with new ears (ooh, how Zen of me!). Winking smile I try to anticipate how a newcomer would react, so that I don’t get defensive if they don’t understand instantly how awesome Girlyman is.

The problem is that given the heavy toll that the past year has taken on them (Doris was diagnosed with Leukemia almost exactly a year ago), it’s understandable that they don’t always deliver a peak performance, on every song (like they used to). For non-fans, Doris has responded extraordinarily well to the medicine (which she has to take daily) and is now in remission (or for you medical nerds, in full molecular response). That’s awesome. Still, the toll (on all of them!) has been exacted and it will likely take time to get (somewhat) beyond it.

For me, the manifestation comes in the harmonies (and even some solo leads) not being delivered as cleanly as they are on the albums (or were in most previous live shows). At other times it’s the rhythm of the show itself. Even though they were hysterical last night, there were only two tuning songs. If you’re a fan, you know what that means to us.

I’ll digress for a second and say that they opened the encore with a very funny bit, which culminated in the girls cajoling Nate into singing a parody song. The title: Undeterred. The homophone of that (not in the strictest sense, since it’s actually two words): Undy turd. Suffice it to say that it is a silly song filled with normal conversational words that all aim to project the image of the homophone, rather than the previously spelled out version.

I was wiping tears away during the song, I was laughing so hard. It was literally uncontrollable (bordering on embarrassing).

Not to belabor the original point, but rather to put it to bed, their delivery isn’t always perfect. No real fan of Girlyman cares. I bet many don’t notice (because they’re enraptured), but when I pull myself out of the moment to analyze the sound, I recognize the difference.

Do I care? No! I can’t wait to see them again on November 13th, at Joe’s Pub, where it all began for me in August 2007!

Finally, on to the opener. We’d heard amazing things about Coyote Grace. They’ve opened for Girlyman on a number of tours now, but the two shows that we saw in April were the only ones where Coyote Grace didn’t appear (Birchmere and The Southern Café).

Coyote Grace began as a duo (Joe Stevens and Ingrid Elizabeth, I only know that from their website). Michael Connolly joined them to form the current incarnation.

All three are extremely talented, vocally and instrumentally. They’re also all very comfy on stage and are often funny.

Unfortunately, even though it’s exactly my type of music, I didn’t really connect with them in any meaningful way. The sound of nearly every song was lovely, so they can certainly perform to a high level. But, the lyrics often felt forced to me.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about a singer/songwriter who I felt suffered from writing too directly about her personal feelings/experiences. We’ve all had those feelings, but her lyrics were so direct that I felt disconnected from them. A number of times, I felt the same thing about Coyote Grace.

I love song introductions. Often, it makes me appreciate a gorgeous lyric which could be interpreted a number of ways (which is one of the things that makes it a great lyric) in a very specific way (allowing me to connect specifically with the artist, independent of the song). The reverse was true last night a couple of times.

Coyote Grace introduced some songs in a very personal way (so far so good), but then sang lyrics that were laser-like targets of the intro. In other words, I couldn’t have easily misunderstood the lyrics in that context only. So, the songs themselves were not generically moving (to me).

The only other issue I had was that while Joe has a very nice voice (reasonably distinct characteristics), he doesn’t sing with much power. Ingrid has an amazing voice (truly), and can sing with power, but when she sings with Joe (which is way more often than the few times that Michael joins in), she tones it down to match Joe. That’s cool, except that in a 400-person venue, a little more power is called for (IMO).

JoeStevensIngridElizabeth

They are all talented multi-instrumentalists, but Michael Connolly tops the list. He played mandolin, fiddle, accordion, piano, upright bass and probably a few more that I am just forgetting. All extremely well! He sings well too.

MichaelConnolly

Still, that’s not what I will remember most about him. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that he’s the spitting image of Wayne Knight (Newman on Seinfeld). That Michael was very funny, facial expressions as well as some lines, only reinforced that for me.

Coyote Grace kicked off the show by having JJ drum for them (wonderfully!). They later invited Ty up to play the cajon (first time I recall seeing Ty play one). Then they brought them all out for at least two numbers, including a spiritual (written by their friends, Ma Muse) which they mostly snap to (and clap to in the faster parts), in a more a cappella feel. Stunning.

Here are all of them (except for JJ) in one shot, singing a different song:

GirlymanJoinsCoyoteGrace

I listened to the streaming music on the Coyote Grace site today, for more than 30 minutes. I liked the sound a lot, but I was easily able to work on other things (meaning, again, the lyrics didn’t pull me in). Listen for yourself, you’ll likely feel very differently.

Here’s their set list along with a page from the program with last night’s entry:

CoyoteGraceSetList

During intermission, I stood at my seat just to stretch. When I looked toward the back, I instantly recognized someone I’ve only seen once in my life. Five rows behind us was Owen Danoff, who we saw perform in NYC a few weeks back. He was there with a friend, celebrating his birthday. Here’s what I wrote about him. As you can see, I’m a big fan, including being able to pick him out in a crowd. Smile

HadarOwenDanoffFriend

In a much smaller world story, when Lois slipped past me (also during intermission), she stopped in her tracks and looked at the person two to my right in our own row and said: “Are you?” and he replied “Yes.” Smile

It was another Girlyman fan, John Dickerson. I briefly met John at two other Girlyman shows, but had spoken to him on the phone before ever meeting him. John wrote a series of articles on risk taking. One of those was about Girlyman, and the risks of being an indie music group in our times. John interviewed me for that article. His wife sat between us. It made me feel like our group of 10 was really 12. Winking smile

Before heading to the Barns, eight of us had an amazing meal at P.F. Chang’s in McLean. We made Stacey pose with our server. Winking smile

StaceyPFChangs

Here are the rest of us right before the show. The ghost is taking the picture, which is why there are only nine of us visible.

AllOfUs

New Thanksgiving Tradition

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Last year I reported on our first-ever trip to Birmingham, AL, for Thanksgiving with our godson David. It’s now officially a tradition, which is likely to extend at least through next year. Once again, the real parents went north and spent Thanksgiving with Laura and Chris.

We repeated the general pattern from last year, but there were enough differences that are worth mentioning. Last year we spent Tuesday night in Durham, picked Wes up early Wednesday, and drove to Birmingham. In doing so, we got caught in horrendous Atlanta traffic, where we moved less than 1/4 of a mile in one two hour period.

In order to avoid that, we picked Wes up on Tuesday afternoon, and drove a few hours to Gastonia, NC, hoping to pass through Atlanta before the crush. That worked, as we had perhaps a 20 minute delay in Atlanta this time. But, it afforded us another surprise.

We got to meet Wes’ dad for dinner at a Sonny’s BBQ right outside of Charlotte. He’s a great guy and a wonderful host (he wouldn’t even let us leave the tip, and believe me, we tried hard!). The food was outstanding but the company was better. I spent most of the time chatting with Wes and his dad, and Lois split her time talking to us and to two lovely young ladies who were visiting from Texas.

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SonnysBBQ-OurGang

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We arrived in Birmingham at 1:30pm and checked into a Hampton Inn. David was still working at the hospital, so Lois and I logged on and caught up with email. Wes wasn’t feeling too well, and he sacked out on the big chair in the room. We tried to be quiet, not necessarily all that effectively.

David called at 4:30 to say he was on his way home, and we met him there at 5pm. After a hug (or two), we headed for dinner at P.F. Chang’s. We had a truly spectacular meal there (not that we’ve ever had a bad meal at any Chang’s). Shortly after returning to David’s, the old folks called it a night and let the kids catch up (Wes stayed at David’s, as he did last year).

DavidWesHadarPFChangs

Last year, David worked the morning of Thanksgiving, but was home by noon. This year he was on a 30-hour call (in the ICU), so weren’t going to see him until Friday afternoon. That alone accounted for the biggest difference in the schedule from last year, when David was on a 30-hour call from Friday morning through Saturday afternoon.

After watching a bit of pro football with Wes on TG day, we headed for TG dinner at McCormick and Schmicks, one of the few places open in Birmingham on TG day. We moved our reservations up from 6pm to 2pm. The restaurant is gorgeous, everyone there (including our waitress) was gracious, efficient, and in excellent spirits (even though they had to work on TG day).

McCormickAndSchmicksBirminghamAL

Last year, we had TG dinner at Ruth’s Chris and we all opted for steak rather than a traditional meal (which was available). Without discussing it in advance, both Wes and I decided to order a traditional TG meal, taking advantage of the fact that we were going to Ruth’s Chris on Friday evening this year. It was superb. As good as the turkey was, all of the surrounding trimmings were incredible.

WesHadarTGDinner

Lois and I had the best cappuccinos of our lives as well, but not without a moment of hesitation. When we ordered the cappuccinos, we were asked a question we had never heard before: “Do you want them wet or dry?”

Huh? We asked what the difference was, and were told that wet was more milk, less foam, and dry was less milk, more foam. We took them wet, and you already know what we thought of the result. 🙂

InsideMcCormickAndSchmicks

For the rest of the weekend, Lois proceeded to mis-pronounce the name of the restaurant, in a dozen different ways, always substituting a different second name after McCormick (which she got right every time). After seven different attempts, the one that seemed to stick with her (and which Wes and I started repeating consistently) was “McCormick and Schlitz”! 😉

It was this year’s version of Obie Snoods. If you don’t know what that inside joke means, then your life doesn’t revolve around my blog. Shame on you! 😉

Hint: type “Obie Snoods” into Google or Bing and click on the first link!

We stopped at CVS on the way back to the apartment and picked up a few items, including two DiGiorno pizzas. We watched football the rest of the afternoon, worked a bit on the laptops and indeed ate some pizza later that night. A very relaxing day highlighted by a truly wonderful meal.

On Friday morning, Lois and I did what any good godparents would do. We drove to Hoover, AL to the nearest Costco and shopped for David to stock up every nook and cranny in his apartment and fridge. Success. David actually beat us back to the apartment, and was able to help us carry the bounty upstairs.

We ate the rest of the DiGiorno for lunch and then settled in to watch Alabama beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl (Roll Tide!). When the game was over we were joined by David’s friend Rebecca and the five of us headed over to Ruth’s Chris. We had a very private table in the atrium, probably because most people were somehow involved with Iron Bowl travels or festivities.

DavidRebeccaWesLoisHadar

Another great Ruth’s Chris meal, with lots of laughs, very unhurried by our excellent waiter. We were there over two hours, including forcing dessert on everyone (OK, everyone except for Lois, who can resist the mightiest of dessert forces!). After dropping the kids back off, we said a quick goodnight and headed back to collapse in the hotel.

AmazingRuthsChrisBreadPudding

David was off on Saturday. We picked David and Wes up and had brunch at V. Richards. Another excellent meal! Better yet, outdoors! Last year, a cold rain prevailed throughout the TG weekend, and it was miserable to be outdoors. This year, nearly 70 degrees. If I get a vote for next year’s weather, I choose to duplicate this year’s, not last…

DavidHadarWesAtVRichards

From there we headed to Vulcan Park and walked around a bit. Of course, we made it back to the apartment in time to watch the Florida game, ensuring a battle of the wills between David and Wes the following week in the SEC Championship game, now history. I’ll leave that topic alone, to not inflame the bad feelings any more than necessary…

VulcanParkSignBirminghamAL VulcanParkBirminghamAL

When that game was over, we headed back to Hoover, AL, straight to the Sprint store. We bought David an HTC Hero (Android phone) for Christmas/Birthday. We’re now officially Android buddies since I got a Droid as a gift a week earlier (I’ll be blogging about that separately, likely tomorrow).

From the Sprint store we headed to Jim ‘N Nicks for dinner where we met up with Rebecca. The meal lived up to my expectations of my previous Jim ‘N Nicks meal in downtown Birmingham, even though the atmosphere in the downtown one is dramatically more upscale.

I was wearing one of my 100 Python T-Shirts, and one of the waiters (not ours) walked by and said “Python Rocks!”. It does, and you never know where you’ll find a fan! 🙂

After dinner we scurried over to the movie theater and caught a late showing (by our standards) of Blind Side. All five of us enjoyed the movie thoroughly.

On Sunday morning David was back to work bright and early. We picked Wes up and headed to Briarwood Presbyterian Church for the 10:55am service. Rebecca was playing in a brass quintet that was being featured throughout the service (she plays French Horn). They played their first-ever public performance in the earlier service. If there were any glitches to be worked out, they pulled it off by the time we heard them. They were wonderful!

RebeccaFrenchHorn

The church is one of the most magnificent that I’ve seen, and the congregation couldn’t have been friendlier or more welcoming. In a surprise, David got off work earlier than he expected, and joined us just minutes into the service.

BriarwoodChurchInside

Here’s a very small world side story. When we were driving back to David’s from our Friday morning Costco run, I noticed a stunning building on the opposite side of the highway. It was labeled “Comprehensive Cancer Center”. I asked David about it, and he said that he didn’t know about that particular building.

When we returned from the movies the next night, we drove the same route, and when I pointed the building out to David, he said that he was pretty sure it was part of the UAB Hospital system (an outpost).

Well, it turns out that it’s at the base of the Briarwood Presbyterian Church grounds, so we drove right by the front door of CCC on the way in and out. When I mentioned it to David originally, I had never heard of Briarwood, hadn’t met Rebecca yet, and therefore had no idea that I’d be visiting that Church on Sunday…

After the service we drove to Firebirds restaurant (in three separate cars) and had yet another wonderful meal. One of the most flavorful burgers I’ve had in a while! After the meal we said goodbye to Rebecca who was off to play another service in Jasper, AL that evening. Not bad to have three gigs on your first day in a new brass quintet! 🙂

The boys headed back to the apartment, and we headed back to Costco (right around the corner from the restaurant) to replenish the incredible amount of Propel that the boys had gone through in just two days!

We hung around the apartment until dinner time, when Lois and David went out to pick up Dave’s Pizza. Wes talked us all into trying Pepperoni and Jalapeño pizza. It was a little hotter than he recalled his previous encounter, but it was quite good nonetheless. 🙂

Again we left on the early side, especially knowing that we were aiming for a very early start the next morning.

We arrived at David’s at 6:40am to pick up Wes, just in time to say goodbye to David on his way to the hospital. We drove to Atlanta in non-stop rain (nearly blinding at times). We stopped for brunch in Atlanta and met some friends at a really cool out-of-the-way place called Sun In My Belly. A great meal, with great company and an hour and twenty minutes later we were back on the road.

With a very few breaks in the rain (notably, including the two times we had to walk in the Sun In My Belly parking lot!), we drove the rest of the way to Durham to drop Wes off, then drove the remaining 3.5 hours back to Fredericksburg.

Another fantastic Thanksgiving weekend. We’re already looking forward to next year! 🙂