Rodeo Bar

The Third Wheel Band CD Release at Rodeo Bar

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The Third Wheel Band headlined Rodeo Bar last night. Beyond a normal headlining show, it was their CD Release (2nd one) for Family Album.

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Eleven months ago we accidentally caught half of their set at Rockwood Music Hall. Well, hearing even one note was accidental, catching half the set was because we couldn’t tear ourselves away, even though we had to leave! I wrote about that experience.

The intro from that post was as true last night as it was last year:

The Third Wheel Band was a complete joy to listen to from their first note. In addition to playing and singing well, all three are charming on stage. There is a drummer listed on their website, but he wasn’t there last night.

Near the bottom, I wrote:

I’m now following the band on Twitter, so we’ll be sure to hear about upcoming shows and plan to catch one as soon as we can.

Amazingly, while we had a few close calls, we haven’t been able to make a show until now. When I saw that their CD Release was in our neighborhood, I put it on the calendar as a can’t move. Even though we had company staying with us, we told them that we were committed to this show. Smile

A few words about the show, then about the CD, then about Rodeo Bar (first time I ordered food there).

We stayed for the first of at least two sets (I have no idea whether they repeated the set). The majority of the set was straight off the new CD (which is exactly what you’d expect at a CD Release show!). Every song was executed wonderfully. The set lasted roughly 70 minutes, long and satisfying!

The Third Wheel Band (TTWB) is a minimalistic Bluegrass band, quite classical in their delivery (read their interesting bio to see how they chose the band name!). What distinguishes them are crisp, tight vocals (individually and 3-part harmony) and excellent musicianship (all three). Also, they’re having fun on stage, so it’s hard not to have fun along with them in the audience.

Given that most Bluegrass bands play a ton of covers (even the biggies, like The Grascals, who we just saw this past Friday!), there are two things that make a band worth following around: 1) their delivery/execution, 2) their arrangements/sensibility. The point is that many of the songs you’ll hear have been done by the greats (the original songwriters/performers and the best touring Bluegrass bands), so you can quickly tire of people who don’t do justice to those songs.

Not to worry folks, TTWB can hold their own. The fact that they are locals is the bigger surprise, because there aren’t all that many local Bluegrass or Country bands around these parts (I should have thrown in a them  or here somewhere in that phrase). Winking smile

But, rather than play a ton of really classic Bluegrass tunes, TTWB took more traditional (in some cases downright ancient) Folk tunes and turned them into full-blown Bluegrass numbers. Specifically, on the CD (with most performed during the set we attended): Skip to My Lou, Down By the Riverside, You are My Sunshine, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, Buffalo Gals and This Little Light of Mine.

The point is that none of those are sophisticated songs, with lyrics that you better think about long and hard, but they’re classics which are ingrained in our culture (at least for those of us over 30) and TTWB’s take on them is fun and fresh.

After the set we asked how many originals are on the new CD, and the person selling them said two. I’ve already listened to the CD and I really like it, but I didn’t read the liner notes so I don’t know which are theirs.

One more recap of the band, then some thoughts about Rodeo Bar.

Greg Barresi on acoustic guitar and vocals. Excellent on both. His guitar play is really tasty, flat-picking a variety of styles, often mixing chords with mini-leads within the chord. A lot of chord play that he slides up a fret quickly and smoothly. He sings really well, on the lead and harmony.

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Step Allen on upright bass and vocals. Also excellent on both. I’m really impressed with her bass play. She’s in constant motion, even when it’s obvious she could fake it and play every fourth note and still deliver a solid bottom. She’s fast, smooth and interesting. Her vocals are classic Bluegrass. She take the highs in the band, often really bright highs.

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Ryan Langlois (again I can’t find a good individual link) on mandolin, harmonica and vocals. Let’s complete the trifecta and label Ryan as excellent on both (he’s good on the harmonica too, but he won’t rock your world). His mandolin play is quite interesting. He doesn’t play traditional leads (at least not many), but he sneaks some very sweet leads in as part of his chord progressions. Whatever he’s doing, it works. His vocals are wonderful whether he’s singing lead or harmony.

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There you have it. Our first chance encounter, followed by 11 months of being sure we wanted to see them again proved to be correct. We were both very happy to have caught last night’s show and to have a chance to purchase the CD. We’ll see them again, I’m sure!

Here’s the set list. Now that I see it, I realize that the second set was likely going to have no repeats. That’s very cool and I’m sure we would have enjoyed it just as much. Unfortunately, we’ve been burning the candle at both ends, and 10:30pm seemed like a reasonable time to head home (not that I got to sleep before midnight, though it would have been 2am if we had stayed…).

SetList

This was our second time at Rodeo Bar. It’s way more convenient to our apartment than any other place we frequent, so we’re likely to return somewhat regularly.

As we were walking in, the first person we spotted was none other than Chris Anderson. It turns out that he was playing the set before, with Josh Max and The Smash and Grab Band. I don’t know if Chris was Smash, or Grab, but I’m sure he pleased the audience either way.

Chris mentioned that his folks were there as well. We went over to say hello and his mom told me she had the Catfish Tacos and enjoyed them. That helped me decide. I had them too, and I have to say, they were great. Thanks Robin!

I like the atmosphere at Rodeo Bar, I like the staff and I like the sound system. But, the first time we were there (for The Brain Cloud) the audience was quiet and respectful, so I assumed most shows would be like that. They have two rooms, so it’s easy to avoid being on the music side.

Last night, the crowd (and it was quite a crowd) was super enthusiastic about TTWB’s songs, after the fact, with very loud applause, but there was a ton of loud talking during the songs (including from a table of four women right up at the stage). I admit that upbeat Bluegrass music with familiar songs (where you don’t have to concentrate on the lyrics) almost begs to treat it as background music, but these kids on stage are playing their hearts out (really well!) and I would wish they got more respect for their musicianship.

Anyway, since I’ve only been there twice, I can’t judge whether this is more of a bar scene with background music, or whether this is more typically a listening crowd. I guess I’ll find out, because I intend to go back (for the food, as well as the music).

Dennis Lichtman and The Brain Cloud at Rodeo Bar

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Dennis Lichtman blew me away the only time I saw him, 10 months ago, at Mona’s. That night, he was doing his weekly Mona’s Hot Four gig, where he plays the clarinet. Our friend Melissa Tong took us there, specifically to hear Dennis. Here’s what I wrote about his clarinet play and her response to me:

Dennis Lichtman was that clarinet player. When I mentioned that to Melissa, she told me that he doesn’t consider the clarinet to be his strongest instrument. Say what? Now I have to find him and watch him play every other instrument, first ensuring that my seat belt is on and my tray table is locked in its upright position!

Dennis has another regular setup called The Brain Cloud. In that group, Dennis plays mandolin and fiddle. I’ve had a number of close encounters trying to get to see The Brain Cloud. They used to play every Monday night at Banjo Jim’s. I assumed I’d catch them there sometime, but then Banjo Jim’s closed. Sad smile That Monday gig moved to Barbes in Brooklyn. I might make it there, but the stars need to align (and I have to update my passport) to get us to Brooklyn (where we both grew up and spent all of our formative years). Smile

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When I got Dennis’ email newsletter announcing a show at Rodeo Bar, not too far from our apartment, I knew that nothing else happening in NYC last night would push this off my calendar (and there was a ton happening at Rockwood Music Hall!). We had never been to Rodeo Bar (27th Street and 3rd Avenue), but we’ve driven by it 100 times. I had no idea they had live music, now I do.

We walked over thinking that this would be a noisy neighborhood bar (not unlike Mona’s) with Brain Cloud playing in some corner. Happily, I was wrong (I usually am). Rodeo Bar is a Tex-Mex restaurant bar, with two rooms. One is a more typical local sports bar, and the other is more of a casual restaurant with a real stage area. They have a real sound board and a full-time sound engineer working it. We were both extremely impressed with the sound quality.

The people in our room were an awesome audience. Super quiet during the songs, fully appreciative after each song was over. While we only had drinks, the food looked so good that I’m sure we’ll be back for a meal, with or without music being involved.

On to the music. The Brain Cloud is a mix of Bluegrass, Old Time Jazz, Western Swing, Big Band Lite, etc., sometimes all together in a single song. It’s all covers (or at least everything on their CD and in last night’s show were), so the musicians better be good.

Not to worry my pretties. Dennis is indeed masterful on both the mandolin and fiddle. I might still prefer his clarinet play, but that might also be biased by that being my first introduction to him. Dennis also sang a bit of background harmony. There are five more people in Brain Cloud. The bass player and drummer from the CD were not part of last night’s lineup.

Left-to-right on stage:

Skip Krevens on electric guitar and lead vocals. Skip played the electric beautifully. He sang lead vocals on one song. His vocals last night were OK. On the CD, he sings lead on one song and comes across much better.

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Raphael McGregor on lap steel guitar. Fantastic! Tasty play, including duels with Dennis.

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Tamar Korn on lead vocals (lots of links about Tamar, but I couldn’t find her own website). Tamar has a voice that is very suited to Bluegrass and old-time Jazz (like the Andrews Sisters). It’s high, and has a bit of a Betty Boop flavor. She’s a showman (showwoman?), in her expressions and movements, including dancing around when she’s not singing. During one instrumental, she sat right near us and couldn’t have been lovelier.

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Scott Kettner on drums. Scott is not the drummer on the CD, but I didn’t feel cheated. He was excellent, including a number of solos. This style of drumming is generally understated, but that doesn’t make it easy.

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Ian Riggs on upright bass. Ian was also replacing the bassist from the CD, and as with Scott above, I thought Ian was excellent. He took a number of solos. In one number, Ian and Scott traded solos back-and-forth, with Scott supporting Ian on the high-hat. Wonderful!

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I mentioned above that Tamar sat next to us during one of the instrumentals (she sat for two songs, the second was when Skip sang lead). The instrumental was Mission to Moscow. It was awesome.

When the first set was over (they played two sets, split over three hours) I went up to Dennis and bought a copy of The Brain Cloud CD (it’s self-titled). When I popped it in this morning, I was thrilled to find that Mission to Moscow was the first song. The entire CD is excellent.

Glad to have finally caught Dennis again, playing two additional instruments. Glad to have discovered Rodeo Bar. Glad to have been able to walk to/from a music venue.