Rockwood Music Hall

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall

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We’ve seen Alex Berger perform twice before, but last night at Rockwood Music Hall was our first time seeing him headline a full set with a full band. The show started at 11pm, which is way past our bedtime, but Alex is well worth today’s exhaustion.

AlexBergerEntering

After the show we finally got to meet another friend and fan of Alex, and she said exactly what I was thinking: “Alex is an old soul!” So true.

Alex has a great voice, plays the piano wonderfully, and writes beautiful songs. Most are from a throw-back era of great jazz singers who wend their way through heart-tugging lyrics and sophisticated melodies, highlighting their vocal and musical chops along the journey. Hence the term “old soul”.

AlexBergerPiano

Alex has completed work on his soon-to-be released CD Snow Globe, but still needs some help in getting the final package put together and delivered to his eagerly awaiting fans.

We’ve already helped by being the first to pre-order the CD and then being first to contribute when he announced the final push on his Kickstarter Page. As of this minute, he’s less than $600 from his goal of $3,173 to get the CD released. Please help out, however much you can. 11 days left to make this a reality!

Last night Alex was accompanied by a very talented group of musicians. Sitting left-to-right on stage:

Marika Hughes on cello. I am pretty sure that Marika also plays on the Snow Globe CD, so seeing her perform live added a bit more excitement to finally getting our hands on the CD in a few months. She was wonderful throughout the set.

MarikaHughes

Tony Maceli on electric and upright bass. Tony is wonderful. This was our third time seeing him perform, the other two times were both in support of amber Rubarth. He has the right touch on the bass and complements whoever he is playing with.

TonyMacelli

Adam Christgau on drums. I’ve written about Adam many times, the most recent time being his performance this past Friday night at Canal Room in support of Ian Axel and Greg Holden.

AdamChristgau

As always, Adam proved my thesis last night, that he can play any style to match the performer he’s accompanying. Alex’s Jazzy/Bluesy set called for an entirely different drumming style than Ian Axel’s energy-laden pop-fest. Adam is always up to the task!

Alex brought two very special guests on stage with him. Amber Rubarth came up to sing a duet with him. Gorgeous! She just got back into town that day after a long tour down the East Coast and into the mid-West. I am impressed that she had the energy to come out that late and sound so good!

ambeRRubarth

In a small-world coincidence, we just got our copies of amber and Adam Levy’s new EP in the mail yesterday. We listened to it right before heading to Rockwood. Nice timing! 🙂

Martin Rivas joined Alex for the last two numbers of his set. Martin played guitar (really well!). That freed Alex to leave the piano tucked in the corner of the stage and come out and just sing the last number. It was great!

MartinRivasGuitar

AlexBergerSinging

Alex joined in a tradition of baking cookies and brownies for his holiday audience. Martin Rivas has been doing this for a while (I think) and the two of them baked up a storm for all of us. Lois was kind enough to let me sample (devour) some, and they were awesome! I bet the place would have been even more crowded if people knew what they were missing in the dessert department! 😉

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It’s not clear whether Alex had to pay Adam in cash. It appears he would have happily performed for cookies and brownies. 😉

AdamCookie AdamBrownie

Alex has a lot of fans. The place was packed, on a cold Monday night during a holiday week, for an 11pm show. Well done!

When Alex’s set was over, Martin Rivas took the stage. We really wanted to stay and hear him, but alas, we were turning into midnight pumpkins, and had to run out to hit the sack. We’ll look for a Martin Rivas show as soon as possible.

MartinRivas

Ian Axel at Rockwood Music Hall

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The title of this post is as big a surprise to me as it is to you. 😉

When we planned our evening last night (a couple of weeks ago), I was unaware that Ian Axel was scheduled to play at Rockwood Music Hall, and was unaware of his music. Our plan was to see Greg Holden at 8pm (our first time seeing him) and then running a few blocks away to Arlene’s Grocery to see Atomic Tom for the first time as well. The best laid plans…

The night before (Thursday), we were also at Rockwood, to see ambeR Rubarth and we caught most of the set before her, Chris Kasper and Ross Bellenoit. Adam Christgau, who was drumming for ambeR, mentioned that he would be drumming for Greg Holden the next night (we knew that, which is why we were interested in seeing Greg’s show to begin with), but he also mentioned that he’d be drumming for Ian Axel immediately thereafter.

Hmmm, that made me listen to Ian Axel’s MySpace page and I liked what I heard. We were now leaning toward hanging at Rockwood, especially if we had one of the few seats in the place, rather than chance being shut out at Arlene’s Grocery.

I’ll come back and describe the rest of the evening’s musicians and logistics after covering our experience of Ian’s set.

Wow!

OK, I covered it! Seriously! We were both blown away by Ian in every respect. He’s an absolutely phenomenal piano player. He has an excellent voice (more on that in a bit). He writes interesting songs (melody, lyrics, arrangements). He delivers them with tremendous energy and showmanship. He connects with the crowd. He’s funny.

IanAxelPiano1IanAxelPiano2

On his up-beat pop numbers he was accompanied by Adam Christgau on  the drums and Chris Anderson on electric bass. Both were excellent, and both sang harmony a bit.

AdamChristgau ChrisAnderson

Adam has always impressed me (as I’ve written a number of times) but even more so last night, after seeing him play with Greg and Ian, adding more styles than is required to support The Paper Raincoat and ambeR’s music. He’s a super talented drummer (and singer) that adds to any artist he’s supporting!

AdamChristgauLaughing

In addition to those high energy numbers, Ian also played a few solos on the piano, ballads, and he played one solo on the ukulele, which was more mellow.

IanAxelUkulele

He told a story that when he started out, he really didn’t consider singing. A friend of his, Chad Vaccarino kept pressing him to sing, telling him that he was destined to be a singer. Obviously, Chad got to him, and we are all grateful that he did!

Apparently, roughly the same time that Ian started singing, Chad stopped performing (Ian didn’t explain why). Until earlier this week, when Chad performed at Rockwood (on Monday), and according to Ian, killed it! After telling the story, Ian invited Chad up on the stage to sing a song with him. Excellent!

ChadVaccarinoChrisAndersonChadVaccarino

Ian’s a definite follow around whenever we can.

Toward the end of the set, Ian mentioned that he hopes to get his new CD out by the end of the year. In the meantime, he had a 6-song EP that he offered to give away to anyone who came to find him at the end of the show. He allowed for the fact that some people might wish to donate instead of just taking it for free. 🙂

In addition to being generous in the Tip Jar that was passed around for Ian, Lois found him after the show, and donated $20 for two copies of the EP. We enjoyed it on the ride back to the house this morning.

Working backwards musically, appearing before Ian was Greg Holden, the primary reason we were at Rockwood to begin with. I mentioned Greg in a post about Cardboard Bikini (a.k.a. The Paper Raincoat), where he stood right behind me at Rockwood for one of their shows. After that show, both Adam Christgau and Alex Berger told me that I really needed to catch Greg’s show.

GregHoldenTuning

The next morning, he left on a six-week tour opening for Ingrid Michaelson, all over the country. I started following him on Twitter right away, and I enjoyed his snarky updates and got a feel for the tour through his eyes.

He also has a song that will be featured on this week’s episode of Private Practice on ABC, so he’s well on his way to a career in the music biz.

I thoroughly enjoyed his set, though clearly not enough to have bumped Ian from the title of the post, hence my own surprise.

Greg played the acoustic guitar well. On his more energetic numbers, he was accompanied by Adam Christgau on the drums, a bassist whose name I didn’t catch and Ian Axel on the piano.

UnknownBassist

You already know how I feel about Adam and Ian, so I’ll just mention that the bassist was really good too. It was even more impressive when Greg mentioned that he was pressed into duty at the last minute, and had to learn the three songs (perhaps even that day!). I tweeted Greg last night asking his name, but haven’t heard back yet.

Update: Greg just tweeted that the bassist was Jon Estes! Thanks Greg.

He has a very relaxed style on stage, with good audience rapport. He played a cover of Walking on Sunshine, where he easily got the entire crowd to sing along, loudly. He’s also very funny (both on Twitter and in person).

Greg also played a few solo numbers (including Walking on Sunshine). He has a really good voice, and writes interesting songs. If I had to tweak him a bit, I’d say that a number of songs achieve their length by being a little too repetitive. They’re still good, but I have no doubt that he can do better, and I’m sure he will.

According to him, he took a major gamble this past January and moved to the US from the UK to launch a music career from scratch. Obviously, he’s achieved so much in so little time. Still, I have a feeling that he will continue to grow dramatically, likely at a rapid pace as well, so I look forward to tracking his career.

As with the night before, when we discovered Chris Kasper, I checked out who would be on before Greg, in the hopes that if it were someone good, we’d have a better chance of having a seat for Greg, while still enjoying the set. This week is the CMJ Showcase all over NYC, so many shows are more crowded than they might otherwise be, due to the extra publicity and press.

Edie Carey was on from 7-8pm. I listened to a few of the songs on her website and liked what I heard. Also, I noticed that she was on the last Cayamo cruise (she’s going again in March 2010), and in addition to all of the major stars that perform on that, our very own Girlyman went on last year’s cruise as well. So, I was officially intrigued.

EdieCareyTuning

We walked in at 6:43pm to a jam-packed crowd listening to the group that was on from 6-7pm (I’ll describe our brief encounter with them after saying a bit more about Edie).

With a ton of luck, and some very nice people, when the set before Edie ended, Lois was able to get a seat, and a few minutes later, I was able to snag one right next to her (absolutely incredible given how crowded the place was).

Edie has a wonderful voice, which she controls really well, delivering power when she wants, and whispers at other times. She accompanies herself well on the guitar, mostly rhythm, with occasional finger-picking thrown in.

She describes her song-writing style as overwhelmingly dark (she’s right). She has an incredibly devoted fan base. Most of the people in the crowd for her set were there specifically for her. When she asked for requests, I was amazed at how many people started yelling, and how many different songs they were trying to get her to play!

One guy, standing in the very far corner, whom she called Vincent, yelled “Nice!” as she finished each song, cueing the exuberant clapping.

All of that is to say that for a large number of folks, Edie Carey is magic. She moves their souls. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that reaction. While both of us thought her voice was excellent, and her stage presence was good, the songs did very little for us. The comment that I used above saying that Greg was a bit repetitive could be multiplied for Edie.

Both of us felt that every song was overly repetitive, but since she’s singing mostly extremely slow, dark, dirges, the effect is worse than in a catchy up-beat song, where at least the repeating hook is fun.

There was nothing unpleasant about the set, and the plan to find a seat during her show and be settled in for Greg and Ian worked out better than I could have hoped, but she’s not someone that we would seek out in the future.

She told one story about writing a song for her wedding (she was married in May 2009, and her husband sat a few feet away from us). The story was warm and engaging, and it was the only time during her set that I was 100% captivated and attentive. Unfortunately, the song itself, not so much…

EdieCarey

Since we walked in at 6:43pm, we got to hear the last two songs of the set before Edie.

The Uglysuit had a packed crowd (as I mentioned before), and from what we heard, fully deserved! Three electric guitars, one electric bass, grand piano, and drums. That’s about as many people as you can cram on to the tiny Rockwood stage. In fact, they couldn’t! The drummer never sits on stage, and in this case, the bassist was in the crowd too, taking up the space where two people would normally be sitting.

TheUglySuit TheUglySuitDrummer

They have a gorgeous, rich sound. They sing well too, but they jam for much longer stretches than they sing. I would have been extremely happy to catch the rest of their set, and will look out for them in the future, though they hail from OK and tour all around. They’re playing today at 3:30pm at Kenny’s Castaways, but we’re already at the house.

I’ll use them as a specific example of a point I want to make about Rockwood in general.

At a number of venues, including some of our favorites, Sound Engineering can be hit-or-miss. Even at our favorite club, Joe’s Pub, on occasion (thankfully not too often), the sound can be downright bad.

Rockwood has nailed it for every set we’ve seen so far. What’s more impressive is the range of instruments and styles and number of people on stage, etc., that they consistently nail it for.

Using The Uglysuit as an example, three electric guitars, an electric bass, grand piano, drums, and two people singing, typically, something is too loud, or something can’t be heard. Simply not the case at Rockwood. Even with all of that music going on, the volume was appropriate, and each instrument was clear. It’s a crying shame that this isn’t the case for every show at every venue.

I stand in awe of the two people who run the sound for the sets we’ve seen at Rockwood, one of whom we believe is the owner. Absolutely incredible.

If we could be assured of always getting a seat, I hazard to guess that it might even surpass Joe’s Pub as a favorite destination for us, though some of the groups that we see at Joe’s wouldn’t play a place as small (or free!) as Rockwood.

ambeR Rubarth at Rockwood Music Hall

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If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past six months, then you know that Lois and I can’t get enough of ambeR Rubarth, whether she’s playing solo (and releasing amazing solo albums) or doing her part in the incredible duo, The Paper Raincoat. So, when an opportunity arises to see her live, it would take a team of wild horses to keep us away.

Last night she played two separate shows, 8pm at Rockwood Music Hall and 10:30pm at Gallery Bar a few blocks away. Given how exhausted we are from all of our running around, we intended to see only the Rockwood show, and we succeeded. 🙂

Joining ambeR on stage were The Paper Raincoat regular drummer, Adam Christgau and the wonderful bass player who accompanied ambeR at Joe’s Pub for her CD Release Party, Tony Maceli. In the post about her CD Release Party, I noted:

Last night’s show was one of the best concerts we’ve ever attended!

AdamChristgauAmbeRRubarthTonyMacelli

ambeR was wonderful last night at Rockwood in every song in the set, and the crowd was loudly appreciative in their applause (and whoops) after each one. For all but two numbers, she played beautiful finger-picked guitar. On the others she played the grand piano. She’s wonderful on both instruments.

In a slight departure from past shows, she asked the crowd if she could play one of her favorite cover songs. Do you think anyone objected? 😉

ambeRRubarthSinging

She performed a solo version of Bob Dylan’s Just Like a Woman. While remaining totally true to the original, ambeR still made it her own. It was fantastic. You could have heard a pin drop in this extremely crowded (and tiny) bar, people were so rapt in attention. When she was done, yet another intense burst of applause.

ambeRRubarthTonyMacelliambeRRubarthTuningAdamChristgau

They were on stage for 45 blissful minutes. After the set, there was a very long line of people wanting to buy her CDs. Exactly as it should be!

Rockwood Music Hall is very small, but a completely wonderful place to see live music. Most sets are one hour, including setup, so perhaps 45 minutes of music. As such, there isn’t usually the concept of an opening act (there are exceptions), so other performers are playing before and after the act you might be interested in seeing. The shows are free. There is a one-drink minimum, and a suggestion of $5 per act to place in the tip jar.

The only other time we were at Rockwood, it was to see the alter ego of The Paper Raincoat, a.k.a, Cardboard Bikini. That was a 10pm show, and it was more packed than a sardine can. Thinking that this could happen for ambeR as well, I decided to check out who was on before her, to see if we would like to get there earlier both to enjoy more music and to hopefully snag two of the few seats.

Chris Kasper was listed from 7-8pm. I checked out his MySpace page and really liked what I heard. That made me want to get there in time to hear his entire set. Unfortunately, other tasks during the day conspired against the best laid plans. We arrived at 7:20 and Chris was in mid-song.

ChrisKasperSinging

The other part of the plan worked to perfection. There were a decent number of people there, but it wasn’t nearly full and we were able to get two seats up at the stage right in the middle (our favorite spot). I don’t know if it’s because Chris is from Philly and perhaps not well known in NYC, or it was just the earlier hour (noting that our only other time there was for a 10pm show).

Accompanying Chris was Ross Bellenoit on guitar and some harmony.

RossBellnoit

We were drawn to Chris (and Ross) even before he finished the song we just walked in on. He has a soulful, almost wispy voice (not wimpy, a little gravely, in the interesting sense!). He writes sophisticated lyrics which are beautifully constructed, triggering a rush of interesting images the minute you hear them.

He plays guitar very well (though for the most part, he deferred to Ross on the leads). They also played a cover of Help On the Way by the Grateful Dead, where their guitar leads were in perfect harmony between each verse. Awesome!

ChrisKasperGuitar

Ross played exceptional leads on an acoustic guitar on every song. The audience clapped after a couple of Ross’ leads (and wanted to every single time), but no one wanted to miss the next verse that Chris was singing either. At one point, Chris had to stop, and prompt the audience to do what they badly wanted to do (after a particularly good lead). Very classy!

Ross sang harmony a few times. He was actually good, but I only know that because we sat about five feet from him. He didn’t step up to the mic, so he was more of a whisper in the background.

After the set, Lois purchased three of Chris’ CDs. Two are his directly, and the third is from a band call Lowlands that Chris was part of for a while, called Bark & Twine. We listened to all three this morning, and like them all a lot. This is not a knock on Chris as a solo artist in any way, but we both really loved the Lowlands CD, it meets all of the criteria we have for things that get to us immediately.

RossBellenoitChrisKasper

Anyway, a very nice surprise, with the bonus that we had seats for ambeR’s entire set. Chris definitely benefited from being on before ambeR in terms of possibly picking up new fans. From the minute we walked in, a steady number of people kept coming in throughout his set, with the intention of being settled in for the ambeR show.

By the time his set ended, the place was nearly full (though not sardine like). The rest of ambeR’s crowd clapped just as enthusiastically for Chris and Ross as we did, and I hope they too will support him and look him up in the future.

When we got up to leave after ambeR’s set, we bumped into Jason (who we met at the Livestrong Fundraiser) and a friend of his, who happened to also be at the Brad Paisley show the night before. We chatted briefly, and headed out before the next act started to play.

Paper Raincoat at Rockwood Music Hall

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ambeR Rubarth and Alex Wong are two of the hardest working musicians in NYC’s vibrant indie music scene. Each has a number of projects going on simultaneously. They also regularly guest star at local shows with other indie rising stars.

The Paper Raincoat is their collaboration project, an ingenious concept, telling a long-running story (a novel), unfolding song after song. Of course, each song stands alone superbly on its own, making their music all the more delicious.

Paper Raincoat

Paper Raincoat

For those who missed it, I first wrote about The Paper Raincoat in April. More recently, I wrote about ambeR Rubarth’s CD Release Party at Joe’s Pub.

The Paper Raincoat is also having a CD Release Party at Joe’s Pub, on October 6th, at 9:30pm. We already have tickets, and I urge you to get yours soon, as there is little doubt that the show will sell out, and that it will be fantastic!

With that background, it should come as no surprise to find that ambeR and Alex joined in a new project last night, debuting at Rockwood Music Hall, called Cardboard Bikini. It was billed as a super secret show!

Before you rush around the web, spending too much time figuring out that this was a wonderful tongue-in-cheek play on Paper (Cardboard) Raincoat (Bikini), I’ll spare you the trouble, by sharing my perspective on why they did this at the end of the post (I have zero insight from them, just my speculation).

We’d never been to Rockwood Music Hall before, and were curious to check it out, as a number of people we like show up there regularly. It turns out that it’s a teeny tiny bar a few doors in on Allen Street, off of Houston Street. I chuckled when I got inside, at the Music Hall moniker…

All shows at Rockwood are free, and the vast majority last an hour. One drink minimum per person is required, and for some shows, a tip bucket is passed around at the end (last night included, most people donated, along with us).

Joining ambeR and Alex last night was Adam Christgau on drums, just as he did at the Canal Room show where we discovered them. Just like at that show, Adam was awesome last night. I am always impressed when a drummer can play it just right for the size of the room they’re in, and given the teeny size of Rockwood, Adam managed a very large sound, without ever stepping on ambeR or Alex.

Adam Christgau

Adam Christgau

Rockwood was packed to the gills. Roughly 20-25 people were seated at a handful of tables near the stage, and another 50-80 were packed in like sardines standing and enjoying the music. Lois was lucky (due to a number of selfless, kind people) to get the seat immediately in front of the stage, right in the center, between ambeR and Alex! I stood for the entire show, and enjoyed every second of it (except for the standing part). 😉

They opened the show with two of their hits, Brooklyn Blurs and Sympathetic Vibrations (two songs we can’t get enough of!). They played a few other songs that we’re familiar with, but in the middle of the set, they debuted (at least for us) a couple of songs that were fantastic. This included a song called Right Angles, where both Alex and ambeR play the grand piano simultaneously, meaning, four handed! Wonderful!

Alex Amber One Piano

Alex Amber One Piano

They closed the show with the same two numbers that they closed Canal Room with, and we can only hope that they do it again at Joe’s Pub, because they bring the house down every time. On the first one, all three end up drumming on Adam’s drum set at the same time. It’s incredible. At Canal Room, Lois was the designated tambourine player. Last night, a wonderful NYC musician named Adam Levy (I covered him in the ambeR post) had the honor.

Adam is pictured in the front here, with the tambourine in his hand:

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

Amber Adam Alex Drumming

The Famous Tambourine

The Famous Tambourine

They finished up with an a capella number, including Adam, which is a joy to experience. Quite a transition from pure drumming, to pure singing (well, not so pure, as they use their bodies for percussion to accompany the a capella singing, and I’ll say no more, just go see them!). 🙂

Adam Amber Alex A Capella

Adam Amber Alex A Capella

The only disappointment was that setting up on the tiny stage required more maneuvering than normal, and it took them longer to finish the setup than they anticipated. So, instead of the show starting at 10pm as scheduled, they started playing at 10:25pm. They played over their 11pm limit (by 11 minutes), to make up a bit of it, but otherwise, an amazing evening.

Now, my speculation as to why the show was billed as Cardboard Bikini, not Paper Raincoat (to repeat my caveat, this is only my opinion, I have no idea whether this is correct or not!):

  1. The official CD Release Party is October 6th, and they wanted a way to test out some of the new material live, in anticipation of the Joe’s Pub show, without the pressure of formally debuting it as Paper Raincoat.
  2. Rockwood Music Hall is so small, and Paper Raincoat has a very nice following (as do ambeR and Alex separately), that if they had announced a formal show, lots of people would have been disappointed to not even be able to fit. While they not-so-secretly announced it to their Twitter/Facebook/MySpace followers, at least people who checked out the Rockwood web site, or follow other concert update sites, might have skipped a show by the unknown band Cardboard Bikini. (A good reason for you to follow them on Twitter/Facebook/MySpace!)
  3. They have a great sense of humor, and the whole concept of a top-secret, not-so-secret show, with a clever name, appealed to them for no other reason.
  4. All of the above.
  5. None of the above.

Come see them at Joe’s Pub on October 6th, and buy the new CD there (you won’t regret it). Also, consider signing up for the mailing list and getting the announcement for pre-orders. That’s always a great way to support a band that you like! Hope to see you there!

P.S. Standing right behind me for the entire set was Greg Holden, another excellent artist who is about to start a long tour with the wonderful Ingrid Michaelson. I really want to catch him live, soon. I wouldn’t have recognized him. He said to someone else that Adam Christgau is his drummer too, so I asked Adam after the show who it was, and he told me it was Greg. Cool! 🙂