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Acoustic Alchemy at Birchmere

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Last night was our third time seeing Acoustic Alchemy perform, first time at Birchmere. It was also our third Birchmere show in the past eight days! There were also three of us in our party. Three was a lucky number last night. 🙂

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Our last Acoustic Alchemy show was awesome, and fully covered in this post. I’ve been trying pretty hard lately not to repeat myself too much, so if you want lots of details, please read that post, it really all applies to last night’s show.

They were incredible last night, to a person. The differences were more related to the venue. Birchmere is big (seats 650) and typically produces a better sound than most clubs that we attend. They played a wide selection last night, including a couple of songs from their first CD and sprinklings throughout their catalog (I own all 15 of their CDs!).

I would guesstimate that there were 400+ people in attendance last night. The crowd was made up of huge Jazz lovers, and specifically Acoustic Alchemy lovers. We were sitting four seats from the stage, dead center, and the people around us (who were on line for an hour to get those seats) were super fans.

There were multiple spontaneous standing ovations after particularly amazing guitar solos (mostly from Greg Carmichael). He deserved every one. His partner, Miles Gilderdale, is equally mesmerizing, with a completely different style (night and day different).

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In a heart-breaking moment, Miles told the crowd (many of whom knew) that the band lost someone very dear to all of them over the summer. It was the daughter of the drummer Greg Grainger, Dianne, 24 years old! She was also the niece of the bassist Gary Grainger and the fiancée of the keyboard player, Fred White. Obviously, close friends of Greg and Miles as well. Truly tragic! Miles was choking back serious tears while talking about an upcoming benefit for Dianne.

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We have seen quite a number of great opening acts, sometimes even discovering a new life-long passion (The Paper Raincoat is a recent example). That said, it’s sometimes hit-or-miss as to whether they’re even complementary to the headliner, or good on their own. When they’re good, it adds value to the ticket price. When they’re bad, it drags the evening out, often bringing down your mood even before your beloved band hits the stage.

This week, at two separate shows at Birchmere, the opening bands were outstanding in every respect (Po’ Girl last Sunday, and Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson on Wednesday). Still, when we showed up last night and saw that there would be no opening act, we were thrilled.

First, no gamble on the quality. Second, it was Sunday night, with a work day to follow. Third, we had a one hour drive back to the hotel after the show. All of that meant that a shorter evening was welcome.

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Acoustic Alchemy played for just under two hours, including a two-song encore. The food was excellent (as it always is at Birchmere), and we brought one very special guest with us, who made our evening all the more wonderful (thanks for coming along!). 🙂

Girlyman at Birchmere

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Last night was our 13th time seeing Girlyman live. The last time we saw them was the only time we took no guests. Last night, we set a new record (previously 19 at Highline Ballroom). Including us, we purchased 26 tickets for last night’s show. Two of our expected guests missed their flight in Chicago, so only 24 of us showed up. That worked out, since we sat at two tables for 12, right up against the stage.

Since I’ve written about Girlyman endlessly, I’ll make this one very short (ha, you say!). Last night was the last show on their East Coast CD Release Tour. I think they played 11 out of 12 consecutive nights. Given that, the change of weather, the various colder northern states they played in (we saw them on the opening night of this tour, in Norfolk, CT, and it was 40 degrees that night), it wasn’t a surprise that both Ty and Nate had pretty bad colds. 🙁

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The show was still generally excellent, as excusing a slightly sub-par performance was easy to do. The crowd gave them rousing ovations for every song. The banter was top notch, so their brains weren’t foggy, it was just their throats that were froggy. 😉

They played a long and well-balanced set (songs from the new album, but also songs from the early ones). They were on stage for roughly 100 minutes, including the encore.

I don’t begrudge Girlyman their political views, but Nate couldn’t resist taking a shot at the Bush Years when introducing the song True Enough (a somewhat tongue-in-cheek homage to Obama). I’m just curious as to when Obama supporters will start owning this nation’s problems. It’s so easy to only blame the past, and I’m sure it’s fun. Until you own the problem, you can’t and won’t fix it. Time to follow your most favorite advocacy group, and Move On!

Opening for Girlyman on this tour (with the exception of Joe’s Pub) was Po’ Girl. They were very good at Infinity Hall when we saw them on September 30th. That night, they played a 30 minute set. Last night, they were better, in fact, significantly better. They played a 45 minute set, and while they repeated a few songs (two or three I think), there were a number of new (to us) ones in the mix, and they were all really good.

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While we knew what to expect, none of our guests did. I was overwhelmed (in the most positive sense) by the spontaneous reaction of all of those around me to how awesome they thought Po’ Girl was. The two couples sitting immediately near me both went out and bought a Po’ Girl CD (one during intermission, they couldn’t wait to get their hands on it) and the other one after the show. I think others in our group also bought CDs (both Po’ Girl and Girlyman) after the show.

Everyone thanked us after the show and told us how much they enjoyed it. I’m sure that the entire experience delivered that feeling. The food was excellent (as it always is at the Birchmere), and a number of people commented to me how surprised they were at that (clearly first timers there).

More than half of our party saw Girlyman before (at least once), so they could factor the colds out and still know how awesome Girlyman is (and can be), but I felt a little bad for the first timers, who didn’t quite get to experience the real magic of Girlyman, even though it was still a really good show!

A bunch of shots of a portion of our our gang:

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Girlyman at Infinity Hall

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Last night was our 12th time seeing Girlyman perform live. You’d think there wouldn’t be an opportunity for too many firsts but you’d be wrong. Amazingly, this was the first time we’ve seen Girlyman where we went alone. In the previous 11 shows, the smallest group we brought was two additional people, and the largest was 19 (including us).

Girlyman recently released their brand new studio CD, Everything’s Easy. I reviewed that CD in this post. A few weeks ago, they toured in Canada. Last night, they began an East Coast tour in support of this new CD.

Last night’s show was at Infinity Hall in Norfolk, CT. This is a beautifully restored building (from 1883) that opened for live music just a year ago. In May, they also opened a top-notch Bistro.

Infinity Hall Outside

Infinity Hall Outside

Infinity Hall Inside

Infinity Hall Inside

I’ve written about Girlyman so many times, that regular readers would be bored if I just repeated how wonderful they are/were last night. I’ll just mention a few things that were different (keeping in harmony with the opening paragraph, where I say there were a few firsts last night!).

Nate played a little electric keyboards (mostly with his left hand, with his baritone electric guitar still strapped on). This was a keyboard supplied by their opening act (who I will cover after I say a few more things about Girlyman).

Nate

Nate

Ty played a red electric guitar on a few numbers.

Ty Electric Guitar

Ty Electric Guitar

Doris was just her usual awesome self:

Doris

Doris

For roughly 2/3’s of the set, Girlyman had a drummer on stage with a full drum set. Her name is JJ Jones, who is the drummer for the opening act. She was excellent, throughout both sets. What was particularly interesting for me was hearing Joyful Sign (the second song of last night’s set), with a full drum set, live. It has a full drum set on the studio CD, so this was a more faithful reproduction of that.

I still love Girlyman without the drums, with or without Ty playing the djembe, but having a good drummer supporting them (and freeing Ty to play more guitar, something I’ve mentioned in some other posts), was a very nice touch. I’ll be fine with that becoming the norm, or reverting to no drums, if/when they stop touring with this opening act.

Finally, Nate was in rare form last night. His tuning songs were great and plentiful. All of their banter was hysterical. The audience ate up every drop of the music and laughter. They were on for just about 100 minutes.

Opening for Girlyman was Po’ Girl, the same group that they toured with in Canada, except that there, the roles were reversed, and Girlyman was the opening act.

Po’ Girl is made up of two exceptionally talented women, Allison Russell and Awna Teixeira, both singer/songwriters with fantastic voices and gorgeous harmonies between them. Accompanying them (and I guess now technically part of Po’ Girl) are Ben Sidelinger and the aforementioned JJ Jones. Between the four of them, they play a wide range of instruments, all expertly!

Allison Russell appears to be the front-person for the group. She has a wonderful voice and personality, and plays the clarinet, guitar, glockenspiel (and perhaps I missed one or two others!). Her clarinet play is outstanding, and unexpected in this type of group.

Allison Russell

Allison Russell

Awna Teixeira sings beautifully and plays guitar, electric bass, a small accordion, electric keyboards, glockenspiel and a bicycle bell (probably more). She has an energy on stage that draws you in.

Awna Teixeira

Awna Teixeira

Ben Sidelinger played the banjo, dobro, guitar (acoustic with Po’ Girl, and electric during the joint encore with Girlyman), electric bass and bicycle bell. He’s superb on all of them. As you will see from his site (linked above), he built the guitars that Po’ Girl was using! He also comes across as one of the nicest people around!

Ben Sidelinger

Ben Sidelinger

JJ Jones played the drums and a bicycle bell. She also played the tambourine on one number during the Girlyman set. She was as wonderful playing with/for Po’ Girl as she was for Girlyman. Given that she played both sets, and was highly active throughout, she’s a kinetic wonder! She also delivered on a number of rim shots and other appropriately effective sounds during many of Nate’s comedic forays.

JJ Jones

JJ Jones

Po’ Girl played a 30 minute set, and as mentioned above, joined Girlyman on stage for an energetic rendition of their always wonderful Son of a Preacher Man encore.

Girlyman Po Girl All

Girlyman Po Girl All

Girlyman Po Girl Most

Girlyman Po Girl Most

Infinity Hall is nearly a two hour drive from our house. Given that this was opening night for the tour, and that we will be missing them a week from tonight when they play at Joe’s Pub (our favorite place in general, and the place where we first discovered them), we were happy to make the drive.

We drove up early, intending to eat dinner in Norfolk. We knew they had a Bistro, but we actually didn’t realize it was a full-time restaurant that operated separately from the theater (they are in the same physical building). In addition to us not fully researching the Bistro in advance, we also were hoping to surprise Girlyman so we decided not to eat at the Bistro, just in case they might spot us. 😉

Just a few doors down from Infinity Hall is an Italian Restaurant / Pizza place called Mizza’s Pizza. We ate there and both thoroughly enjoyed our meals (good value too!). They were reasonably empty while we were there, so we ended up spending much of the time chatting with a young man who was one of our servers (he’s engaged to our other server). A delightful conversation getting to know a very interesting person. We’ll look him up again in the future.

Afterward, we found out that the Bistro is awesome (from a number of folks, including the Girlypeople themselves, and they are definitely foodies!). Next time, we’ll eat there, even though we really enjoyed our meals and the people at the Italian place.

Our surprise was only partial. Doris came out before their set and Lois got to tap her on the shoulder. So, we surprised one of them. We caught up briefly after the show, but all of us were dog tired, and had long drives ahead, so we skedaddled and got home at 12:40am.

We had a great time. Thanks Po’ Girl and Girlyman, as well as all of the folks at Infinity Hall (and the Italian Restaurant for that matter) for making last night a great night out!