Tarrytown Music Hall

Indigo Girls at Tarrytown Music Hall

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We saw the Indigo Girls for the first time this summer, in VA, covered in this post. When I saw that they were coming to Tarrytown Music Hall (which we found out last night was their first time there ever), I was so excited that I used it as the excuse to finally become a member of The Hall so that I could purchase tickets early. That worked out, as we got second row seats, center orchestra!

Much of what I said in that post could be repeated verbatim here, since I was just as impressed last night, and we’re still not experts in their music. That made us anomalies (again), as the overwhelming majority of the audience were serious Indigo Girls fans (nearly all were wonderfully respectful, even though they were loudly adoring as well).

Both Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are brilliant songwriters. Both have very strong voices. While Emily’s vocal range is probably a little wider, I was impressed the few times that Amy took the high notes in songs where Emily was singing lead.

Amy Ray

Amy Ray

Emily Saliers

Emily Saliers

Both are solid on all of the stringed instruments that they play. Emily really shines on the guitar and banjo, playing extremely sophisticated leads and picks. I would happily attend a show where Emily did nothing but play solo guitar! Of course, I would miss out on her voice, songwriting and harmonizing with Amy, but she would still be fantastic!

Once again, Julie Wolf joined them for the majority of their numbers. She played electric keyboards, accordion and grand piano, all wonderfully. She also harmonized with them on a number of songs (and with their guests as well), and she has a lovely voice, that blends perfectly with the Girls.

JulieWolf JulieWolf 2

They played an eclectic mix of songs last night. Huge crowd favorites (where they have to let the audience sing along, including typically having the audience sing an entire verse by themselves!), a nice selection from their new CD (Poseidon and the Bitter Bug), and some more obscure older numbers (Amy’s word!), that weren’t obscure at all from the crowd’s perspective, as they were shouting out for them!

What is impressive (to me) about them is the incredible energy and power they deliver, even in large venues, even though they are just using two stringed acoustic instruments. Julie adds a beautiful depth with the keyboards, but Amy and Emily achieve the same energy even when it’s just the two of them on stage.

About 2/3’s of the way through their set they introduced a special guest star. They turned over the stage to her for one song all by herself. That guest was Jill Hennessy, one of our favorite actresses who is now launching a musical career with her debut album, Ghost In My Head. We loved her in Law and Order, and even more so in Crossing Jordan, which we were addicted to.

She sang 10,000 Miles from her new CD. She has a fantastic voice, and accompanied herself very well on an acoustic guitar. Later in the show, she joined them for a few more numbers (sans guitar) to sing harmony, to close out the show. She was terrific and it was a real treat for both of us to get to see her perform!

Jill Hennessy 1 Jill Hennessy 2 Jill Hennessy 3

The Girls had another guest on stage for at least four numbers, Michelle Malone, who was also the opening act before the Girls came on. She complemented the harmonies very well, and played solid guitar with them (more on her guitar playing when I cover her as the opening act).

In both shows that we’ve attended, we found the Indigo Girls to be incredibly generous of spirit, to the opening act, to their guests, to each other, to Julie Wolf, and to the crowd. They are simply delightful human beings who radiate warmth and love. That they can write, sing and play instruments so well is just icing on the cake. 🙂

They closed the show with Closer to Fine (one of my all-time favorite songs, not just their songs!). Both Jill and Michelle came out to sing it with them. The second they started playing, people rushed the stage, and nearly everyone stood up (including us old fogies). It was magic (as it always is, I’m sure). Then they left the stage.

No one sat, and no one stopped clapping and cheering. Amy came out alone, with a mandolin, and played a gorgeous song that had all of the energy of all of them on stage at once, even though she was doing it all herself. She popped a mandolin string 2/3’s of the way through the song, and never missed a beat (at least there were seven strings still on there).

Amy Ray Solo Encore

Amy Ray Solo Encore

Sully, possibly the hardest-working roadie in the business (I mentioned her in my previous post as well), noticed instantly and had a replacement mandolin waiting in the wings, in case Amy gave her the slightest nod. Amy just played on with the broken one.

Sully

Sully

Then Emily, Julie and Michelle joined Amy and performed an amazing rendition of Wild Horses (an old Rolling Stones hit for you who are too young). Then Jill joined them as well for the final number, which tore down the house (as it always does), Galileo.

Including the three song encore, and Jill’s solo number, their set lasted just under two hours. Incredible, considering that they had an opening act as well. Bravo all around, on every level!

The Michelle Malone band opened the show. Michelle is an extremely good guitarist. In addition to incredible technique (she plays lead, slide, finger picking and rhythm!), she has a really interesting style. She has a very powerful voice, with a pretty wide range. That’s all the good stuff.

Michelle Malone

Michelle Malone

For me, they played too loud, in particular in support of a group like Indigo Girls. Michelle Malone is hard rock, through and through, and the sound system was cranked up (to a nearly uncomfortable level for my personal taste). She also emotes quite a bit in her vocals (also not atypical for loud rock), and I had trouble discerning sentences (though a word or two, here and there, would make its way to my ears).

That meant that her voice was purely another instrument, as I couldn’t really make out what the lyrics were. As I said before, she has a good voice, so that could have been OK, except for the elevated volume, and the fact that she spends a lot of time in the upper registers (which she can hit well), which was just less-than-pleasant for me.

Still, she’s multi-talented, and most the of crowd seemed to thoroughly enjoy her set, and I’m sure that if she’s headlining, so people are showing up for a rock show, not an Indigo Girls show, then she could really appeal in a very big way!

To repeat, when she was on with the Indigo Girls (without her band), she was exceptional at fitting in perfectly with their sound, volume and vibe. At no point did Michelle detract from the Indigo Girls performance, and when she sang five part harmony with the Girls, Julie and Jill, it was fantastic!

Jason Rogers played bass and sang a bit of harmony. He was fine on the bass throughout the set, until he took a solo, where he lost my interest for the most part, with one small part that struck me as well done. He sang very little, but it could have been not at all, since you could barely hear his voice over the rest of the instruments and Michelle’s very powerful voice.

Jason Rogers

Jason Rogers

Katie Herron played the drums, and nearly pretended to sing on a few lines, before pushing the microphone away from her. Sorry, no good individual links for her, even though she’s played in a number of bands who have gotten reasonable press. For the most part, she was a solid, straight-up drummer, doing nothing particularly interesting.

Katie Herron

Katie Herron

During the last two numbers, Michelle cranked it up a lot, and Katie finally let loose a bit, giving me a glimpse of what she’s got. She followed that up with a nice solo effort in the last song. After drumming a bit, she handed the sticks to Jason, and used her hands on the drums like they were bongos. It was cool, and she was very good doing it.

Michelle Malone was on for nearly 50 minutes, so when you add the length of the Indigo Girls set to that, this was a long, healthy show, with a 20 minute intermission between the sets.

We had a great time, and look forward to catching the Girls again, soon!

Dave Mason at Tarrytown Music Hall

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Last night was our eighth concert at Tarrytown Music Hall, and our third Dave Mason show (first one at the Hall). I covered the previous shows extensively here and here.

To summarize the things that were the same: Dave Mason is beyond awesome. His voice is still amazing, and his fingers move across the guitar like butter. The old songs are as magical today as they were then. The news songs (he recently released a new CD called 26 Letters ~ 12 Notes) are wonderful as well, showing that he hasn’t lost a step in all these years.

DaveMason

Dave Mason

The band (each and every member) is fantastic.

That said, there were a number of differences last night, some even notable. 🙂

Two band members who toured with Dave last year, and were at both of the shows we attended, have been replaced. I tried (reasonably hard, but hardly exhaustive) and I couldn’t find any articles explaining their departure. The band page has scrubbed their existence.

The links to their bios from my previous posts still work, but they point to the new person playing that instrument. Strange. In fact, now that I looked, one of the links that worked before was to a name of someone that was already gone from the band. In other words, they replace pictures and bios on the site, but keep the old links…

Anthony (Tony) Patler replaced Bill Mason on keyboards and vocals. We both loved Bill Mason’s singing and playing, so I’m sad (for him) to see him gone (unless it was his choice to move on). Tony was incredible last night, both on the keyboards and on vocals, so the band didn’t lose any magic in swapping him in.

Johnne Sambataro and Tony Patler

Johnne Sambataro and Tony Patler

Gerald Johnson replaced Alex Drizos on bass. Alex didn’t sing, but Gerald does, on a few numbers. Gerald used to tour with Dave back in the 70’s, so he’s no stranger to the music. If you read my past posts, you know that I think very highly of Alex on the bass.

Gerald Johnson

Gerald Johnson

Like with Bill Mason above, I can’t find a mention of why Alex is no longer with the band. Like with Tony above, Gerald is absolutely incredible, in fact, better than Alex (in my opinion), so the band lost nothing here either (though fans of Alex certainly have…).

Johnne Sambataro was as incredible as he’s been at the previous shows. He’s a crowd favorite, rightfully so!

Alvino Bennett was again amazing. Last night was a treat for me personally, as in both previous shows, I had very restricted views of Alvino, and I’m a drum nut. Last night, he and Tony were on an elevated platform behind Dave, Johnne and Gerald, so Alvino and his drum set were in full view. The man has guns for biceps!

Alvino Bennett

Alvino Bennett

Last night posed a few challenges for Alvino. He broke three separate drums (I assume the skins) during the performance. Dave kidded that Alvino doesn’t know his own strength!

In one number, I noticed him unscrewing a snare drum and handing it to a stage hand, while the song continued. He never caused a disruption, using his bass foot pedal, and occasionally his right hand to keep the beat, while repairing his drum in real time! Unbelievable!

As with the previous shows, Alvino didn’t take any solos, but was solid as a rock. He’s a master drummer.

The one other major difference last night was the venue. If you read my post yesterday (which I’m not linking to because it’s way off topic for this post), then you’ll find what I’m about to say ironic. 😉

Tarrytown Music Hall is a wonderful old theater. Even though the seats are ancient, they are extremely comfortable. We were in the seventh row and had a wonderful line of sight to the entire band. The sound system was excellent last night, and all of the instruments and mics were set at the appropriate levels relative to each other.

Given that we were facing the stage (as opposed to BB King, where you generally have to contort a bit because you’re at a dinner table), the entire experience was as excellent as we could have hoped for.

Dave Mason was on stage for 95 minutes, including his signature encore of Feelin’ Allright.

Opening for Dave Mason last night was the TJay Trio. TJay is good guitarist. One thing that he does particularly well is seamlessly switch between lead and rhythm playing. That’s good, because he’s the only one playing each style.

TJay

TJay

His singing is pleasant enough, and he certainly hits every note, but I didn’t find his voice that interesting, and it was nearly impossible to catch any three words in a row (which was not a problem when Dave Mason was at the mic).

Correction: Nick Soto played the bass, filling in for regular TJay Trio bassist Mick Houser. Afterward, Nick sat across the aisle from Lois for the Dave Mason set. He’s extremely good. I thoroughly enjoyed his play throughout their set!

Nick is constantly moving on the stage (he has tons of energy), and Lois was unable to get a single shot of him that was in focus. Sorry Nick, this was the best of a bunch of bad ones…

Nick Soto

Nick Soto

Correction: Bryan Rinaldi played the drums, filling in for normal TJay Trio drummer Rob Gueli. Nothing flashy, but very solid throughout the set.

Bryan Rinaldi

Bryan Rinaldi

They played a nice mix of rock, blues and jazz and received enthusiastic applause from the crowd after each number. They were on stage for 40 minutes, and warmed up the crowd nicely for Dave. They were also well-matched genre-wise to be an opening act for Dave.

One footnote regarding last night in relation to the night before. There is little doubt that the crowd last night was as in love with Dave Mason as the crowd the night before was in love with Yonder Mountain String Band. And yet, nearly everyone sat in their seats all night, until the encore (I’m not counting the standing ovations).

This isn’t a mark of their age, lack of energy, or lack of love of the artist. It’s a mark of their respect for their neighbors, who came to see the same show, with certain expectations. It was a thing of beauty to see the one woman who was dancing at her seat for 1/2 a song, finally realize that no one else stood up to follow her lead, and she quietly sat down with no one having to say anything to her. 🙂

In order to avoid the typical parking problems in Tarrytown before a show at the Hall, on both Friday and Saturday nights, we came to town 30 minutes early, parked four or five blocks away, and walked to Main Street Sweets for some Ice Cream.

On Friday, it was our first time ever at Main Street Sweets (I read some excellent reviews online of their home-made Ice Cream). Obviously, it was good enough to schedule our return for the next night. It’s a block and a half down Main Street from Tarrytown Music Hall, so it’s easy to relax eating some Ice Cream, and time it to walk into the Hall whenever you like.

Yonder Mountain String Band at Tarrytown Music Hall

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We live near Tarrytown Music Hall and we’ve been to six shows there since we discovered it (we were very late to the party). We are on the mailing list, so we get notifications of upcoming shows. A couple of months ago I noticed that Yonder Mountain String Band (YMSB) would be playing there (last night). The name evoked Bluegrass, which we love, and listening to their music (available right on their website) convinced me that we would like them a lot.

This won’t be a typical post for me following a concert. So, I need to get the good out first, before I start my rant.

All four members of YMSB are talented. All are professional musicians and they sing reasonably well (nothing special). The guitarist, Adam Aijala, is the one standout musician (excellent flat-picker, though not in the league of some others that I have covered here). I know that fans of YMSB will argue that Jeff Austin is great on the mandolin. He’s good, perhaps very good at times, but he’s actually not even close to special compared to quite a number of current mandolin stars.

Their music is very good, all around, and I’m sure that owning their CDs would be enjoyable from the first listen, and consistently so thereafter.

OK, time for their fans (very rabid ones indeed) to turn away. The rest of this post will be a train wreck from their perspective (understandably), and they should look away.

Here’s the nicest thing I can say about the show last night:

Live, YMSB is a Bluegrass version of a Grateful Dead Jam Band wannabe.

That’s not meant as an insult to the Grateful Dead (who’ve been near the top of my favorites list for 40 years!), nor of the Jam Band experience. Even the wannabe tag isn’t meant to be an insult (OK, it was definitely a shot), because they’re very good, and their fans adore them (in fact, exactly like many Dead Heads love the Dead!).

But, context matters (at least to me), and Tarrytown Music Hall isn’t exactly known for being an indoors Woodstock. You wouldn’t have known that last night.

The one thing that is all too typical of Tarrytown Music Hall (TTM) events (and I’ve made this complaint a number of times) is that they never start on time. The show was called for 8pm. I had no doubt it would not start then. At 7:50, there were perhaps 50 people in the hall (it can seat 840!). At 8:05 there were about 150 people there. At 8:18, when the band wandered on the stage, there were probably 400+, and shortly thereafter, there were over 600, I’m reasonably sure.

The point is that TTM couldn’t start the shows on time if they wanted to, because the majority of the regulars know that it’s stupid to show up on time, since the seats are assigned (no advantage to being early), and you’ll just end up sitting and waiting… It’s really rude to people who might have plans later on, or long drives home, etc. TTM needs to figure out a way to spread the word that shows will start on time, even if the audience is empty!

The vast majority of the audience last night were giant fans of YMSB and knew exactly what to expect. The couple in the row in front of us (to our left) were about to see them for the 18th time!

So, what did they know that we didn’t? First, that 90% of the audience would stand for the entire concert, and sway (not really dance), like people do at Grateful Dead concerts. This wasn’t an outdoor festival. Not only are specific seats assigned, the ones that are closer to the stage cost more. We paid for fifth row dead-center seats, but we might as well have paid for last row balcony seats.

Immediately in front of us were two couples that were in their 70’s or 80’s, and had no idea what they were in for either. They stood for roughly 1/2 of the show (at least the part we stayed for), and were clearly extremely uncomfortable for having to do so, just to get a glimpse of the action on stage.

All of that would be somewhat acceptable, if this was an adoring crowd who was mesmerized by the music. Nope, this was a party (and not the kind I’ve covered for a Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban concert). This was a literal party. In fact, here’s a direct quote from the YMSB website (that I wish I had read more carefully before buying the tickets):

“We love that people come to see us,” Johnston points out. “Everyone appreciates good music. Some people want to go to a recital and some people want to party.”

Too bad if you are in the want to go to a recital category. There’s no way that this could ever be the case for a YMSB concert, so the above quote should have been slightly different.

Still, I said above it would be OK if the crowd were adoring. Instead, the four people immediately behind us talked at the top of their lungs, all night long, about their friends who were dating each other, not about the band. And yet, the men (we think not their dates) were fans, as on occasion, they sang along, so they clearly knew the words to some of the songs. The girls’ voices were grating, and made it very hard to hear the words to many of the songs.

Next, the two leaders of the band, Jeff Austin (on mandolin) and Ben Kaufmann (on bass) have a great rapport with the crowd, and are very comfortable bantering and telling stories. Are any of them good? Who knows.

The second either of them opens their mouth, a few dozen morons start shouting, whistling, and generally whooping it up (in an apparent drunk/drugged stupor), and the voices on stage are instantly drowned out. That’s a shame, as I like banter and connecting with the performers in addition to just enjoying the music.

Even if that didn’t happen, there was another problem preventing the clear understanding of the voices on stage last night. Typically, the sound system and acoustics at TTM are top notch. Last night was beyond awful. I’m not even sure that the band was using the TTM speakers, possibly only using their own amps (even for the voices) on stage.

The biggest problem (by far) was the volume on all of the microphones. The vocals were at 50-66% the volume of the instruments. When they sang, making out the words was difficult, and harmonies might have been there, but you would never know that.

The banjo, guitar and mandolin were clear and at good volume levels. The bass was disgustingly loud (and regular readers here know that I love a good bass, so it’s not that I don’t appreciate the instrument). Aside from shaking the floor on every strum of the bass, it was so loud that it hummed (as in feedback) and overwhelmed the voices and other instruments all too often.

I have no idea whether this was because YMSB’s own sound person was just one of the worst (we’ve experienced a few bad sound engineers) or whether this was the fault of TTM (which normally nails sound!).

The audience didn’t seem to notice, let alone care. Like I noted above, they were there for a party. I was thinking to myself that if the band slipped off the stage, and put on a live CD in the background, few would have noticed.

Could there be an explanation? Perhaps. One of their songs is about smoking marijuana, and while they sang it, a bunch of people near the stage were clearly smoking it. That’s not so unexpected outdoors, or when seeing an Allman Brothers concert at the Beacon Theater, but at TTM, for a somewhat Bluegrass type show? Totally unexpected. No, I’m not a prude when it comes to this kind of stuff, just surprised at the context.

I must be running out of complaints, no? No. I’ll probably lose interest in typing before I’m actually done complaining. 😉

Next up, for the first time (reminder: this was our seventh show at TTM), no one came out to introduce the band. They just wandered on stage, and after talking for three minutes, started playing. No problem, but after the fact, it made us think that TTM wanted to distance themselves from the band. But, if that’s true, why invite them to begin with?

You might think I’m joking about TTM wanting to distance themselves, but I’m not. Ben Kaufmann made a big deal about that very fact. He told a story (that I strained to hear) that they played a theater the night before and would likely not be invited back, and he predicted the same would be true for TTM. I hope he’s right. Actually, I don’t care, as I know better than to go again…

Why did he think they wouldn’t be invited back? First, he said “They had no idea what they were getting themselves into!”. Ha ha, that’s a good one on them (the theater owners/bookers)! But, he was more specific. He said that at the theater, there was a special section called Gold Circle Seating, where he believed rich people with season’s tickets sat (the implication, never said, is that these idiots came because they owned the seats, not because they had any interest in the show).

He made fun of a gentleman who was wearing an ascot, and who left the show in disgust, complaining to management that he had no view from his special seat. Ben thought it was hysterical that he expected a normal show from YMSB. Lest you think I don’t have a sense of humor, or that I actually believe that there was a person wearing an ascot, you should know that I took the story figuratively.

I think it’s wonderful that they are successful, and have such a huge and loyal fan base. What I don’t understand is the joy Ben takes in alienating potential fans. People who buy season’s tickets (or people like us, who specifically bought tickets for this show!), need to be included, drawn in, not made fun of. I’m gonna guess that the rich guy is less likely to download an illegal copy of their music (should he become a fan), but perhaps YMSB eschews money as well.

I’m running out of steam, so I’ll just add one additional rant, aimed both at YMSB and TTM, equally.

Tickets at TTM are expensive in general. The same exact group costs dramatically more at TTM than they do just 30 miles south when they play in NYC. One example: we’re seeing Dave Mason at TTM tonight. We paid $126 for two tickets (including fees). When we saw him at BB King in NYC last year, it cost us $80, and a few months earlier, in NJ, cost us $60 to see Dave.

Well, TTM is a non-profit, and doesn’t have a show every night, so I guess that they charge a premium to keep up this beautiful and historic theater. We aren’t too annoyed to support that. Especially, if it means a bigger cut for the performers. Of course, at 840 seats, it also has a significantly larger capacity than many of the clubs we frequent in NYC, so there’s a double effect of potentially putting a lot more money in the artist’s hands. Good.

Except when the artist shoves it in the face of the patrons, making fun of people who can actually afford to pay for a ticket, and have some expectation of what it means to have a certain seat reserved for them.

Last night, we paid $86 for two tickets. I’ll bet that there are few shows a year where YMSB commands this high a ticket price, especially in a venue this large.

When intermission came (75 minutes into the show), we were thrilled to have the ability (and the excuse) to get up, without having to push and shove through the crowd, and we happily went home. I applaud YMSB for putting on a very long show (many shows are only 75 minutes in total), and clearly, they were going to give at least another hour, but we’d had enough.

Summary: they have talent, and the music is good. The sound was beyond awful, they were smug and obnoxious and the crowd was mostly there to feel good about themselves, rather than enjoy the actual performance.

Wes and Hadar’s Excellent Adventure

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Many more people participated in one or more of the activities I’m about to list. Only Wes and I enjoyed every single one of them, hence the accurate title. 🙂

Wes flew up on Thursday morning and I picked him up at Newark Airport. We headed straight to the city and met Lois and two friends for lunch at Westville. We met there at 11:30am because the place is tiny and fills up fast. Only one of the five of us had ever eaten there, so it was a new experience for the three four of us. The food was fantastic! I had the Caesar Salad with grilled chicken. Here are pics of three of the dishes, starting with mine:

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Hot Dogs

Hot Dogs

After lunch, Lois, Wes and I relaxed and caught up with work/email, etc. Then we headed for our night at the Highline Ballroom to see our favorite group, Girlyman. That evening was covered extensively in this post.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed up to the house. Wes had never seen it. We logged on there and all did our own thing until lunch. After lunch, Wes and I headed to see the new Star Trek movie. Lois was intending to come as well, but we had a problem with the dampers again, and she called the HVAC people and waited for an emergency technician to arrive. Sorry Lois!

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes and I both enjoyed the movie. I would be lying if I said it was great in any way (other than the special effects, which were stunning), but it’s action-packed, moves at a very quick pace, is an inventive story, etc. I agree with the comments I had heard about the movie before I saw it, that you don’t need to be a trekkie to appreciate the movie, but that it pays homage to the original in so many ways that it’s extra satisfying to a real trekkie. Kudos to JJ Abrams and the entire creative staff of the movie for pulling off that difficult balancing act!

When we got home, we both logged on again, and  I finally got the blog post about Girlyman published. We then headed for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Tarrytown (that we had never eaten at before). It wasn’t our original destination for dinner, but the two places we wanted to eat at were 30+ minute waits (you know, in this economy, where supposedly no one can afford to eat out any longer…). We were quite disappointed in our meals, so this place won’t be visited again by us. Oh well…

After dinner, we walked 200 feet to our real destination for the evening, Tarrytown Music Hall. We had 10th row seats to see Steven Wright, one of my all-time favorite standup comics. This was my first time seeing him live, but I’ve been a fan ever since he burst on the scene (probably longer ago than many of you are alive). 😉

Steven Wright

Steven Wright

As is typical of most shows at Tarrytown Music Hall, he didn’t come on the stage until 8:25pm (scheduled time, 8pm). It’s annoying, but otherwise, we really love Tarrytown Music Hall. He was fantastic. He did his routine non-stop for 85 minutes.

For those of you don’t know, he’s the king of dead-pan one liners. For the most part, they are based on word play. He never (OK, rarely) smiles, except for specific effect. In other words, his own jokes don’t appear to make him laugh (and that works really well for his type of material). He only told one vulgar joke, and I’d bet that none of the kids that were in the audience had a clue that it was vulgar!

He used the F-word perhaps 10 times, so in general, his act is pretty clean. He speaks softly, so the audience trained themselves (incredibly quickly) to come to a dead silence seconds after laughing hysterically, for fear of missing the next joke!

Here are but two (of hundreds of) examples of the style of humor that no one masters quite like Steven Wright:

I have a friend who has a stained glass eye.

24-Hour Banking. I don’t have that kind of time.

No two jokes are connected. Topics fly all over the place. It’s really funny to hear delayed laughter around you, when you realize that people are trying hard to process a joke, and finally get it, a few seconds too late. 😉

We had a great time there. Afterward, we drove back to the city and watched a bit of Conan O’Brien in his new gig as host of the Tonight Show. I also watched the first two nights on Hulu, and I think Conan is doing a marvelous job in his new time slot. Congrats Conan!

On Saturday, after breakfast and the obligatory emailing, Wes and I met Laura in the lobby and went on one of my patented long walks up the East River. It was the nicest day of 2009 in NYC (so far), and our walk was spectacular in every regard. It took us two hours and 10 minutes, and we loved every second of it (or at least I did!).

After a shower, Wes, Laura, Lois and I grabbed a cab and headed to Five Napkin Burger for lunch. None of us had ever been there before. So, what made me pick it for lunch? I subscribe to Fred Wilson’s blog (one of the top VC’s in NYC) and read every one of his posts religiously. He often writes about his wife, who blogs under the moniker The Gotham Gal. For whatever reason, I had never clicked through to her site.

The other day, Fred blogged that The Gothan Gal had updated the design of her site, and he was very pleased with the result. That’s the first time I clicked through. I liked her writing style and started reading a bunch of her posts. Then I came to this one about Five Napkin Burger! I decided to give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, as all four of us really enjoyed our burgers (all different kinds). Mine was an Italian Turkey Burger. Yum!

From there, the four of us walked back to Times Square, and went to see Angels and Demons. Thoroughly enjoyable. Substantially better movie than The DaVinci Code. We walked back to the apartment after that.

While I caught up on some email, Laura and Wes walked the few blocks to Red Mango and picked up frozen yogurt for a light dinner for the four of us. It was my first taste of it, and I liked it a lot. Chris (Laura’s husband), who was at the dentist while we were lunching and enjoying Angels and Demons, joined us for dinner, which he picked up for himself from the brand new Just Salad a block away from the apartment.

After dinner, the five of us grabbed two cabs and went to see the show Altar Boys at New World Stages. New World Stages is a fantastic space/building, a block off Broadway, that houses seven smaller theaters (Altar Boyz can seat 363 people). All of the shows are quirky (or at least have very quirky and provocative titles and posters). Wes picked this one.

Altar Boyz

Altar Boyz

Wes, Lois and I really loved the show. I caught Laura and Chris chuckling a few times, but I suspect (strongly) that they didn’t like it as much as the rest of us did. It’s very borderline whether any audience member will consider the show one of the following:

  1. Irreverent, but still uplifting and respectful of Christianity
  2. Blasphemous
  3. Some mixture of the two

Personally, I choose #1, with no hesitation, though I have no trouble accepting and understanding that many people could legitimately believe #2 is more accurate. Without a doubt, it’s blasphemous in it’s caricature of Boy Bands. But, in getting you to laugh at that, I believe it still very effectively gets across a message of the best of Christianity’s teachings. It turns out that Laura and her family made the show a birthday present for Lois, and Lois loved and appreciated every second of it!

Thanks M&M’s. 😉

We walked home from the show. When we reached the apartment building, I made the scandalous suggestion that Wes and I go across the street to my favorite Mexican restaurant, El Rio Grande, for a nightcap. Laura and Chris decided to join us as well. Technically, the outside was closed already, but we’re regulars there, and they were kind enough to sneak us in. The inside was still officially open, but it was the most beautiful night, so we were glad to sit outside.

Three of us enjoyed frozen margaritas, and the fourth wisely picked a Banana Pinata for dessert, that the rest of us got to taste (and swoon over!). We then sat on our deck for another 40 minutes, soaking in the remainder of a perfect day.

This morning, we dropped Wes off at Newark Airport and headed down for our usual road trip down I95. Memories of a perfect weekend (uh, I mean, excellent adventure) still linger!

Wes, thanks so much for making the trek up from NC to spend such quality time with us! 🙂

Richard Lewis at Tarrytown Music Hall

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I’ve been a long-time fan of Richard Lewis. In addition to loving his standup act, both Lois and I were fans of Anything But Love for its entire run. Last night was the first time that either of us has seen him perform live.

He had an unannounced opening act (which I’ll cover later). Richard came out at 8:56pm.

Before leaving our house, I tweeted the following:

Heading to see Richard Lewis. Really hoping he doesn’t do too much political humor. I’ll catch enough of that on the tape of the debate…

For the most part, that worked out. Richard was totally himself, and hysterical, from the moment he came on stage. His schtick last night was a cross between Woody Allen (self deprecation, leaning towards self loathing) and Buddy Hackett (jokes about what happens to your body as you get older).

At times he rambled incoherently, seemlingly losing the thread of his story. Somehow, he always found a way to tie the meandering back to the original point, and seemed to bring the audience along with him, earning the full laugh when it seemed he’d lose it.

Amazingly, he’s 61 years old. He always seemed so youthful in everything he’d done over the years, that I didn’t realize he was older than me. Most of his stories (they weren’t jokes and they weren’t really routines either) centered around that fact, and around his now three-year-old marriage.

He’s extremely foul-mouthed, which wasn’t a surprise, but was a little nerve-wracking for me, since Lois can easily shut down completely in the presence of such humor. Even though he cursed constantly, and 70% of his stuff was about sex, drugs or alcohol, he seemed to be making Lois laugh a good deal, so I was able to relax and enjoy myself as well. I don’t mind foul language a bit, but I do think that comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, who seem to be able to avoid cursing for an entire show, are cleverer for it, on some levels.

Go back and reread my tweet from above, where I was truly hoping for no political humor. Unfortunately, my wish didn’t come to pass. I didn’t really expect it to, so I wasn’t shocked.

About 60% of the way through the show, he apologized for bringing up politics. He seemed to be suggesting in his apology that he wouldn’t talk about it much, or with any particular slant or vitriol.

Unfortunately, as with most angry liberals (which is different than a normal liberal), he couldn’t help himself, and he got sucked deeper into it as he went along. Different than my utter distaste for this kind of stuff when it happens at a musical concert (where it’s 100% the artist’s ego to lecture an audience that came to hear music), in comedy, it’s somewhat expected, even if it’s biased or slanted entirely in one direction. After all, they are commentators on the state of society, no?

He took only one shot at Sarah Palin, and if you took it from a purely comedic point of view, it was reasonably clever and amusing. That’s how I chose to take it, because he didn’t harp on it, or get off track with it. He actually didn’t say much about McCain at all, possibly not even one line (but I wouldn’t swear to that).

He did what all angry liberals do, he went nuts over President Bush. You would think that there was a good chance that Bush would be the next President, that we need to live in the past. While directionally, I understand the hatred and vitriol completely, beyond two or three humorous bits, it devolved (as it always does) into a silly (angry) rant, that allowed Lewis to get his frustrations off his chest, but was hardly funny, interesting, or likely to sway anyone in the upcoming election.

Roughly half of the audience soaked up every single anti-Bush rant. The other half was silent throughout. Even after the show was over, I heard anti-Bush / pro-Obama people make the same observation to each other. Lewis likely noticed it wasn’t going over as well as his other stuff, but of course, he couldn’t pull up from the nose dive. It’s like therapy for angry liberals.

He only said a few things about Obama. Obviously, there’s no record to tout. Clearly, no jokes permitted, because you might turn a single voter against him. So, what else can you say? Essentially, that he’ll be a breath of fresh air after Bush, purely because he’s smart. Won’t it be nice to have a smart person in the White House? Yup, it would be. Now if that person also could accomplish anything that wouldn’t flush us further down the drain, that would be great too…

Finally, he was spent on that subject (perhaps 10 minutes, which wasn’t that great a percentage of the time he was on stage, but was a very long stretch of practically zero laughs). He returned to normal funny stories, and won back the crowd, including us. We laughed a good bit at the end of show. I am grateful he didn’t end with the political stuff, which might have left a sour taste in my mouth. Instead, I just felt sorry for him. His life has been incredible (from the outside), in terms of money, fame, women, etc. On the inside, he’s been a long-time drunk, a sex addict, in therapy, and basically miserable and compensating for much of his life.

If he can blame Bush for all of his failings, perhaps he can find some comfort in that. More power to him.

He left the stage at 10:01, exactly 65 minutes. It was a nice length, and mostly funny. I enjoyed the show.

The show was called for 8pm. Tarrytown Music Hall doesn’t seem to ever start on time. The house lights don’t dim by starting time, and people hang around on the sidewalk outside, catching up with friends, past the starting time. It’s not a great way to run a place, even though we like the place acoustically and it’s wildly convenient to our house.

At around 8:10pm, they introduced the unannounced opening act, a comedian named Melvin George. Melvin didn’t curse once the entire show. The crowd loved him from the minute he opened his mouth, until the very last bit. His theme is that he’s not cool (hence his site’s name: notcool1.com).

While he achieved a few genuine belly laughs, he was able to keep the audience constantly chuckling. He delivers insightful commentary, couched in self deprecation (remember, he’s not cool), in an upbeat style, with great pacing. He’s also a good dancer (you’ll have to see the routine to get that one).

His closing routine, which involved pitching the audience on buying a CD of the performance they just watched (last night’s show is already available at this link), was hysterical. Aside from being a great idea (selling the CD), he was able to keep us laughing for five solid minutes, while focusing on a way to make some additional money from that very show. Well done Melvin! He was on stage for roughly 35 minutes.

When the show was over, we walked one block back to our car (we were lucky to find a great parking spot). I reached into my pocket, and my car key was missing (I had the house keys). I have a pair of shorts that have very shallow pockets, and on occasion, when I sit in a deep chair (like in a hotel), my car key slips out. I always find it quickly. It’s never fallen out of a real pants pocket before last night.

Given how close we were to home, it wouldn’t have been a disaster if we couldn’t have found the key, but it certainly wouldn’t have been a pleasant way to end the evening. We walked back to the theater and went straight to our seats. Thankfully, the key was obviously sitting on the floor, right under my seat. By the time we reached the front door of the theater, they were locking it down, so if we had parked a bit further, we might not have gotten back in.

When we got home, we watched the entire debate on the DVR, knowing we wouldn’t bother this morning, once we’d heard the pundits’ spin. Both candidates spouted their respective talking points the entire night. Nothing really learned, and neither really faltered. Onward…

Chuck Mangione at Tarrytown Music Hall

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The minute this concert was announced, many months ago, I bought two tickets. Tarrytown Music Hall is a great place to see concerts (as I’ve reported a number of times before), it’s only four miles from our house, and I have loved Chuck Mangione’s music for decades.

This was the third time that I saw him live. The first time was eons ago at Radio City Music Hall. It was a spectacular show. The second time was two years ago ago at the Blue Note Jazz Club in NYC (briefly mentioned in this very long music catch-up post). It too was terrific, and very intimate, as we sat a few feet from the stage.

Last night we were in the 10th row, dead center. The acoustics were perfect. Chuck was great. His band was/were perfect. With over 40 years of material under his belt, Chuck could play anything he wants to. Unlike some other acts that have survived this long, he tends to give the crowd what they want, rather than cater to his own personal mood.

He played pretty much all mega-hits last night. In no particular order (meaning this isn’t the order he played them in!), he played:

  • Counsuelo’s Love Theme
  • Give It All You’ve Got
  • Bellavia
  • Main Squeeze
  • Children Of Sanchez
  • Land Of Make Believe
  • Dizzy Miles
  • Feels So Good (this was the big encore!)
  • Fun And Games
  • a number of others 🙂

Here they all are together on stage:

Feels So Good Band

In addition to playing the Flugelhorn and keyboards himself, Chuck is very generous with highlighting the talents of his band members (as are many Jazz artists), which was particularly appreciated last night, as each member of the band was simply wonderful.

One of the longest members of Chuck’s band (with a long break in-between) is Gerry Niewood. Last night he played Sax, Flute, Clarinet and Piccolo. He was flawless and fantastic. The crowd gave him rousing applause every time he was featured. He played with Chuck at the Blue Note when we last saw him, and we sat two feet from him, so we’re well aware of his extraordinary talent.

Here he is on three of the four instruments he played last night:

Gerry Niewood ClarinetGerry Niewood PiccoloGerry Niewood Saxophone

Continuing left to right (stage-wise) was the keyboards player. Corey Allen (sorry, couldn’t find a good link to him directly, though he gets good credits on other people’s albums) plays beautifully.

Corey Allen

Charles Frichtel Kevin Axt (corrected due to Dave Tull’s comment below) plays the electric bass (also couldn’t find a good direct link, but he too gets credits, including backing up Michael McDonald!). Chuck highlighted Charles Kevin a number of times, including the uber-famous and wonderful song Fun And Games, which starts off with a funky bass solo (of course, he let loose even more live, later in the song, than they do on the studio version). Most excellent.

Charles Frichtel

Dave Tull is the drummer and the only one who sings. He’s been with the band since 2000, so we must have seen him at the Blue Note, but I wasn’t blogging then, so I didn’t pay as much attention to names. 🙁

First, let’s get the trivial stuff out of the way. Dave sang lead on two songs, Dizzy Miles (wonderfully) and Children Of Sanchez (amazingly). He has a gorgeous voice. Now, on to the more important stuff.

The fist time I saw Chuck Mangione, at Radio City, his drummer was Steve Gadd. There are many people who believe that Steve Gadd is the greatest drummer ever. Many more who believe he is one of the greatest drummers ever. I’m definitely in the second camp, but I admit that when I saw him that night at Radio City, I was in the first camp, for sure! So, listening to another drummer play the same songs can be an unfair starting point for comparisons.

Dave Tull was so incredible last night (and probably every night), that I truly can’t do justice in describing how awesome he was/is. It’s likely the second best live drumming I’ve seen in recent memory, the other being Chris McHugh, covered here. The comparison between them isn’t really fair, as the style of drumming was radically different. Anyway, Dave Tull was mesmerizing last night. Speed, grace, style, voice, without ever overwhelming any other instrument. Astounding!

Dave Tull

Last, but certainly not least, Coleman Mellett on guitar. Sometimes, the Jazz guitarist in a band like this can get a little lost. Coleman does a great job of avoiding that fate and Chuck made sure to highlight him a number of times. In particular, during the very long and slow intro to Children of Sanchez, while Dave Tull is singing, the only instrument accompanying him is the guitar. Coleman is excellent, and complemented the sound the entire evening, on both lead and rhythm guitar.

Coleman Mellett

So, that covers the band. No small feat, as they are not listed on Chuck’s site (a big shame, which I’ve pointed out as a shortcoming on other artists websites as well). In fact, I had trouble finding any of their names, with the exception of Gerry Niewood, who’s been with him forever. After dozens of various Google searches, I was finally able to (accidentally) stumble on Dave Tull’s name, and with that info in hand, was able to locate this article, which gave me the remaining names. Credit where credit is due, thanks Herald Tribune!

At one point during the show, Chuck gave a moving tribute to Jim KcKay who passed away yesterday. Chuck met him during the 1980 Olympics, when he was commissioned to write the song Give It All You’ve Got for those games. Jim McKay described Chuck as the world’s foremost practitioner of the flugelhorn. After talking about Jim, Chuck and the band played a gorgeous version of Amazing Grace.

Chuck Mangione Speaking

And here’s Chuck on the keyboards:

Chuck Mangione Keyboards

When they ended the main show, Lois and I shot out of our seats in a standing ovation. Amazingly, not a single person in the nine rows in front of us (a couple of hundred people!) stood up. I didn’t look behind me, so I don’t know if we were the only two people standing in the entire place. I can assure you that the crowd was thundering in its applause during and after each song, so it had nothing to do with not liking the show, or sending Chuck a message. It was strange, to say the least.

Chuck briefly left the stage, but the others stayed on. After a minute, Chuck returned. They played Feels So Good (as noted above), and snuck in America The Beautiful woven into one part of it (Chuck asked the crowd to sing while they played, and many did!). It was awesome. When they finished, everyone shot up in a standing ovation (quite rousing). So, either we shamed them, or they don’t stand but once a night. 😉

If you’re a New Yorker, you have a number of additional opportunities to catch them this year. You can check the Tour Dates link on Chuck’s site, but specifically, they’ll be at the Blue Note for six straight nights starting July 15th, and for four straight nights at the Iridium Jazz Club on December 18th. Don’t miss this wonderful show!

Not much of a back-story here. We live right near the theater, and so we had our normal daily routine at the house. We had trouble finding parking (street parking is legal, it just happened to be very crowded), but finally found a spot two blocks away. We walked into the theater at 7:58pm. I wasn’t worried, as they rarely start their shows on time (I don’t like that part one bit…).

At 8:05, the band wandered out, with the house lights still on. Then the M.C. came out and talked about upcoming shows for a bit. Finally, he introduced Chuck and the show began (roughly at 8:12pm). They played for 40 minutes and took a 23 minute intermission. When they returned, they were on for just under an hour, including the encore. So, just under 100 minutes of music. Fantastic!

Leo Kottke at Tarrytown Music Hall

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I’ve written quite a bit about acoustic guitarists in this space over the past year. In addition to listening to tons of acoustic guitar on my iPod, we have also seen quite a number of the current great ones live.

In my Acoustic Guitar Update post, I mentioned one of the current (and for a long time) greats, Leo Kottke. The preceding link goes directly to Leo’s Tour Date page. Here is a link to his bio on Wikipedia.

Last night he was playing at Tarrytown Music Hall. Very exciting for us since we live less than four miles away. We bought tickets in the 11th row, left orchestra, aisle and one in (similar to the seats we had for Joan Baez on Monday, with the exception that the Paramount Theater is larger than Tarrytown Music Hall).

Show time was 8pm. We got to the theater at 7:50pm and couldn’t believe how many people were strolling on Main Street. The weather was perfect (70 degrees) and people rightfully couldn’t resist being out and about. Even though Tarrytown is infinitely friendlier about street parking than Peekskill is (see my Joan Baez review for that complaint), given the number of people on the street, we were nervous that we might end up cutting it close to park and be seated.

Luck was wildly on our side, as we found a spot half a block from the theater and we were in our seats three minutes later. It was clear that the show wouldn’t start on time, but that’s been true the past two times we were at this beautiful theater as well…

Leo came out at 8:11pm to thunderous applause. While there were a reasonable number of empty seats, the place was nearly full, and it seemed that the majority of the people in the audience were there because they love Leo, not because it was an interesting local event.

Leo is famous both for his six and 12 string guitar playing. In fact, in my Acoustic Guitar Update post, I mentioned that his album called 6-and-12-String Guitar (released in 1969!) was on the 100 best acoustic guitar albums list at DigitalDreamDoor. I bought a copy (downloaded from Amazong.com MP3), it’s awesome.

He began with the 12 string guitar. He played a few songs before saying much. Then he started to tell some stories or introductions to some of the songs. He has a self-deprecating, soft-spoken style when speaking to the audience. At times, he seems to trail off not actually finishing a story, or even if he finishes it, the original point of telling it seems lost on the crowd.

Leo Kottke

While I own two of his CD’s, and love them both, I was not aware that he also sings (at times). He has a very deep voice. It’s pleasant, but I doubt anyone would go to see him just for his singing prowess. I think he sang four songs (max five) last night.

After nearly 40 minutes of 12 string guitar, he switched to a six string. He was magical on the six string guitar. The difference (last night) was breathtaking. I love the sound of a 12 string, so it’s not that I have a bias against it (I even used to own a 12 string in my teens). It could easily be his particular selection in the first set as I will note later on that he also dazzled when he returned to the 12 string.

Essentially, the selection in the first set bordered on repetitive. There was nothing wrong with any one song, but there wasn’t enough variety between them either, that it almost felt like a loop. When coupled with his trailing-off stories, there wasn’t as much energy in the room as one could have hoped for.

That all changed when he picked up the six string. To me, the tunes were livelier, and his fingers created a much cleaner sound as they flew around the frets. The 12 string has a gorgeous sound, and is really rich, but it’s a little harder to hear the crispness of his amazing leads with so many strings vibrating at the same time.

For the last song (before the encore) he returned to the 12 string guitar and played one of his famous numbers, Jack Fig. Here’s a YouTube video of him playing it (also on a 12-string guitar) from a very long time ago. As you can see, his fingers fly even on a 12 string, and he’s extremely crisp as well.

Leo Kottke Standing

When he came back out for the one-song encore, he also stuck with the 12 string, and was brilliant again on it. That’s why I am chalking up the first 40 minutes to selection rather than skill.

In total he was on stage for 100 minutes. As mentioned before, he spoke quite a bit, so it wasn’t all playing. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed his tales. I found him to be charming and quite amusing. I chuckled an awful lot of times. Many people did as well. That said, it was definitely not unanimous. A number of people were clearly uncomfortable with the amount of talking. A few occasionally yelled out Play when he paused for a breath during a long story.

Lois was in the second camp. She was unfamiliar with any of Leo’s music before last night, so the repetitiveness of the first set caught her off guard. Coupled with the banter, she was on the bored side. She too changed her mind when he picked up the six string. She didn’t enjoy the stories any more in the second half, but she at least was anxiously awaiting his next number, knowing that she would enjoy it when he got to it. 😉

There’s little doubt that in general, the crowd loved the performance on balance, and there were a reasonable number of people who gave Leo a standing ovation (us included). Clearly, this type of show wasn’t for everyone, and it’s understandable. It’s somewhat difficult for a solo guitarist to hold the audience in the palm of his hand for nearly two hours. For many of us, Leo came close.

The Wailin’ Jennys at Joe’s Pub

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Last night finally came, our third time seeing The Wailin’ Jennys live, but our first time seeing them at our favorite place, Joe’s Pub. The last time we saw them was their last show of 2007, at Gravity Lounge in Charlotesville, VA, covered in this post.

The Wailin\' Jennys

Unfortunately, there were quite a number of frustrations last night (though nothing really horrible). I’ll save those for the end.

Last night, the Jennys voices were as awesome as always. Their harmonies are so tight and gorgeous. All of them are excellent musicians and were on last night as well. Jeremy Penner (the one boy Jenny) is an amazing fiddler (I’ve written about him a number of times already) as well as a wonderful mandolin player (though last night I believe he only played the mandolin on one number, possibly two).

Jeremy Penner

They were funny and personable (as always) and even had a few new tales (which was refreshing). There’s something very pure about all four of their faces, and there’s a spirit in them (which shines through) and mirrors their songs / philosophy on life. Simply put, they are a joy to be around!

Their sound engineer has a terrific ear. The balance is perfect, and you can easily concentrate on any one of their voices or instruments, and pick it out clearly. No one sound overwhelms any others, and no one sound gets lost in the whole of the others. It doesn’t hurt that Joe’s has wonderful acoustics in general, but we’ve also been there were the sound was messed up (due to the sound board person, not the venue).

The crowd couldn’t have been more loving and appreciative of the show and the clapping was thunderous and long after every single number. On the songs we were encouraged to sing along, many did, and did it well. 🙂

They sang a few of our favorites (not nearly all!) including Glory Bound. They saved One Voice for the one-song encore, and the crowd sang the last verse with them. Gorgeous!

Here are some more individual shots:

Ruth MoodyNicky MehtaHeather Masse

I could praise them more, but it would be repetitious from the above and previous posts. Instead, I’ll switch gears to some of the frustrations with the evening (including some with the Jennys themselves, heaven forbid!).

If you are the type of fan who believes that other fans should never criticize the artist, you will definitely want to click away this very second, seriously!

I went into last night ranking the Jennys as my second favorite group behind Girlyman. This has been my consistent feeling since the first time I saw the Jennys live at Tarrytown Music Hall on September 29th, 2007, covered in this post. I came out of last night with them firmly entrenched in #2, so nothing that I’m about to say on the negative side affected that.

First, a very high percentage of the early shows at Joe’s start at 7pm. Some start at 6:30 and some start at 7:30. I didn’t pay attention before we got on line (we were third and fourth person on line last night, just like for Tim O’Brien the week before), but it turned out that the Jennys had a 7:30pm start time last night.

That’s already a black mark (but I don’t know who to apply that mark to, the Jennys or Joe’s!). Why? Because 99% of the time, there is a 9:30pm show, no matter what time the earlier show starts, so there is a hard stop for the early show at roughly 8:45pm, including the encore. So, while waiting on line at 5:45pm, we already knew that at most, including encore and banter, the ladies and Jeremy would only be on stage for a max of 75 minutes. 🙁

It’s possible that Joe’s asked them to start later, but I can’t think of a reason why, since they still opened the doors at 6pm (well, actually 6:10 last night), so they had to staff the place, etc. as if the show started earlier.

They came out at 7:33pm. OK, only three minutes late, who could possibly complain? Me. 😉 I know it’s only three minutes, but it was a scheduled late start anyway, with a hard deadline on the back end, so at least give us every possible second of bliss when it’s under your control.

The encore ended at 8:47pm, so 74 minutes in total. Unfortunately, as is often the case, stuff happens during a live performance. During the second song, Heather’s bass amplification went dead. She realized it right away, as did most of the people sitting near us (and therefore I assume most of the people in the audience did as well). She was a pro, and kept strumming her heart out, though no one could hear a note.

When the song was over, lots of fiddling around with the electronics ensued, including Jeremy coming over to help, and the sound engineer coming down as well. One of the marks of a good live show is the performer’s ability to handle these kinds of situations with class and humor (listen to Postcards from Mexico on the new Girlyman Live CD for a perfect example!). The Jennys qualified last night, as the mood remained lighthearted with Ruth and Nicky bantering with the crowd while the work was ongoing.

Here are two shots of the fiddling around. The first is a little blurry, but you can see Ruth entertaining the crowd while the rest of them try to fix the problem. The second doesn’t include Ruth, but is a little clearer view of the fixit crew. 😉

Fixing Heather Masse\'s Sound ProblemsMore Fixing Heather Masse\'s Sound Problems

My only point in mentioning it (though it was no one’s fault!) was that it stole another few precious moments from listening to them perform. That one goes in the frustration category, not the don’t do that again one.

This next set of complaints is ultimately my biggest one (as a single grouping). The context needs to be set, or I will most definitely annoy every other fan (I’ll likely annoy them anyway, but perhaps I can blunt the counter-attacks slightly). What I am about to complain about is a relative complaint. On an absolute basis, even these complaints are about an otherwise nearly blissful exprerience compared to most other music!

Please re-read that before you chop my head off (but feel free to comment here and take a whack at me anyway). I believe that at their worst, the Jennys are near blissful! Got it? Good!

So, what does it mean to say at their worst? Essentially, it means playing songs that are relatively uninteresting (as songs in and of themselves), when they have a repertoire that has so many more richly deserving songs. To be fair, even the most boring song that they play is absolutely, stunningly beautifully delivered. In those instances, their voices just become phenomenal instruments, because the words are completely boring and can easily be tuned out (unfortunately).

Another unfortunate thing in this exact vein is that it isn’t one single song. It’s also not one single show. We’ve seen them three times now, on two different tours, and every time, they’ve played Bring Me Little Water Sylvie. To repeat, their harmonies are stunning on the song. Even their facial expressions while they sing it are wonderful (they get lost in the song). But, in the end, the song itself is just one long repetition of boring words. This is one example, there are more.

I know that many bands (including our beloved Girlyman!) love to do covers that are meaningful to them. Some try to be ultra-true to the original, some like to show how they arranged a favorite to make it their own. So, I’m not generically complaining that the Jennys choose to play any covers rather than just their material, but rather that they aren’t picking the right covers. In my opinion.

Also, only in particular to last night, when you know you’re going to be on for significantly less time than usual, ditch the covers (or at least most of them), and play your bigger hits for your fans.

I have a theory as to why they do the Bring Me Water Sylvie like numbers. I could be wrong, obviously, but I think it’s because they want to highlight the amazing talent that Heather Masse has (and she most definitely has it, in spades). A very noble ideal, indeed. Unfortunately, while the talent shows through, in all of them, even in those songs, there’s no reason not to shine the talent on more interesting songs.

So, why not allow Heather to fill in for Annabelle, and sing the lead on songs like Firecracker and Apocalypse Lullaby, which suit her voice perfectly?

OK, I’ve gone on enough on that topic. Let me wrap that up by saying that the crowd (and we too!) absolutely loved the show, and we heartily gave them a standing ovation before and after the encore, so read the above with that in mind. I want the Jennys to connect even better than they already do (which sounds harder than it is).

On the high crimes and misdemeanors front, this is the first time that we’ve seen them that Ruth didn’t sing Heaven When We’re Home. It’s one of the greatest songs in history, so yes, I rank it as a crime not to get to see her do it again (and again, and again…).

On to a frustration with Joe’s. I complained last week that they made Tim O’Brien and Caroline Herring sell their own CDs in the tiny entranceway in the front after their show, rather than at the typical full-blown merch table in the back. I assumed that it was something special going on that night only.

Last night, it happened again. Worse, at least Tim and Caroline were out there selling and signing their own CDs. The Jennys had other people selling the CDs, and I doubt all four of them could have fit in the space to sign anyway. Very disappointing.

This is made worse by the fact that the Jennys over-price their CDs at the shows. They charge $20 for each of their full CDs (Firecracker and 40 Days). They are cheaper online. There are two reasons to pay the $20 and not complain: you get their signature, you support the group.

If they aren’t going to sign (perhaps not their fault, if Joe’s has a new policy), then paying the premium is purely a support the group thing. We chose to do that, but I can’t say it left a good taste. We own both CDs already (obviously), and have bought five more copies (three Firecracker and two 40 Days) as gifts for others in the past.

Last night we brought both of our copies to get signed, with the intention of buying two more to give as gifts. Even though we couldn’t get ours signed, we still paid the premium for two more (obviously, also unsigned) to give as gifts, to support the band, and we also bought the solo CD by Ruth for ourselves. I’m happy to support them, but Girlyman used to sell Joyful Sign for $20 at live shows, and now sells it for $15, and the Jennys should follow suit. This week we’ll be buying yet another two copies online, as gifts as well.

To put it into perspective, the show itself cost $18 last night. That means that for a show, which lasted longer than the CD (which is already nearly two years old for the newer one), was cheaper than the CD. That just doesn’t feel right (though I’m not complaining about the price of the show). 😉

OK, aside from the fact that I need to again plug the month-long Girlyman Live CD Contest (enter early and often, and definitely check out the new entry from this morning, it’s hysterical!), I want to take this opportunity to do a small comparison of Girlyman to the Jennys.

The Jennys are awesome. Girlyman are awesome. No need to go further, except that I always end up ranking Girlyman higher than the Jennys. Why? For one, Girlyman has twice as much original material, so they are more prolific in their writing. The Jennys original stuff is fantastic, I just wish they wrote more new material.

Some of the Jennys original stuff is thin in content. The songs are beautifully arranged and sung, but at times it feels like the lyrics are built around a single clever line, which just repeats. It’s not egregious, and there’s probably a Girlyman song or two that this could be said of, but in general, there’s more of a consistent depth to the Girlyman lyrics.

Also, while Girlyman does covers in their live shows, it’s rarely more than three in a show. The Jennys have less original content, but they play a smaller percentage of it anyway, choosing to do a significant number of covers. I don’t get that part (that’s independent of my critique of the particular covers noted above!). One of the points is that a Jennys show is more predictable than a Girlyman one.

There’s no doubt that the predictability of a Jennys show is predictably wonderful, but still, very little variation in the three times we’ve seen them (except for this one leaving out stuff due to time constraints).

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for, the food part. Once again, I had the extraordinary Tuna steak, and it lived up to my previous ravings. Unfortunately, as I noted in my Candy Dulfer review, I skipped the fries and the chocolate martini again (Lois was proud of me, so I guess it was somewhat worth it) 😉 so I continue to be (temporarily) virtuous.

Kevin Meaney at Tarrytown Music Hall

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A while ago, Lois and I had to make a decision as to which of two shows to attend last night (December 7th, 2007). There was another Dave Koz and friends concert (including Jonathan Butler, who blew me away the last time), at the Beacon Theater, and Kevin Meaney at the Tarrytown Music Hall.

We loved the Dave Koz concert last time, so that would have been an easy one to pick. That said, we like to spend weekends at the house whenever possible, and I like Kevin Meaney (and comedy in general), so we decided to see Kevin.

It was snowing much of the day, so only having to drive 10 minutes was welcome, though we had to walk very carefully from where we parked.

Kevin was pretty funny right off the bat. I knew that he had a few guests scheduled (it was his Christmas Show), so I was actually a little surprised that he opened the show himself.

He brought out seven little kids (the oldest had to be 7 or 8). He interviewed each of them, and it was absolutely hysterical. Then they all sang one Christmas song together, and the kids were done. Very cute.

After a little while, he introduced a comic whose name I didn’t catch, but both Lois and I think his first name is Jamie (see comments, as we now know his last name is Lissow), and he lives in NYC. He had a slightly strange style, and it took a few minutes for him to warm up, or for the crowd to warm up to him, but once he got rolling, he was really funny. Cheeks were officially hurting by the time he was done.

After a few more jokes by Kevin, they broke for intermission. After the intermission, he introduced a comic whose name I thought was Brian Kylie Kiley (now we know) (sp?) who is a staff writer on Conan O’Brien. Unfortunately, I’ve tried to search for him (and Jamie) and couldn’t find either, so I am sure I got his name wrong too.

He was essentially a one-style comic, but he had it honed to perfection. He would tell the setup, wait five bananas, and deliver a punch line that was always 100% misdirection. Here is a typical example, though this particular joke is both old, and not even remotely one of his better ones: “Now that I’m a parent, I call my Dad for advice more often. He always says the same thing… (count to five bananas…) ‘How did you get this number?'”.

Anyway, the above joke aside, he was very funny. My cheeks really hurt again when he was done.

The only marginally unfortunate thing is that Kevin Meaney ended the show with a movie that he shot in Tarrytown that afternoon. There were clever moments, and it showed off his skill at improvising, but ultimately, it wasn’t that funny, and there were a few uncomfortable moments as well. It was a waste of time…

I am an over-the-moon lover of comedy. I would rather laugh than do anything else. I am also an easy mark. I am happy to laugh at bad jokes, if I can see where the joke was heading. Lois, on the other hand, enjoys a good laugh, but the joke better be clean, and delivered well, etc. In other words, she’s a much tougher critic than I am.

I really didn’t expect her to enjoy the show last night, and I greatly appreciated that she was willing to go in good spirits. Thankfully, she really liked both Jamie and Brian (again, perhaps we got the names wrong), and 1/2 of Kevin’s stuff made her laugh as well (she was nuts over the part with the little kids).

So, it was a very successful evening!

The Wailin’ Jennys are Wonderful

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Last night, Lois and I went to see The Wailin’ Jennys at Tarrytown Music Hall. We don’t own any of their CD’s, and weren’t familiar with their music. So, what made us go see them?

I’ve written a number of times about how much I love to see David Bromberg perform live. In the past year, we’ve seen him twice, once at BB King’s, with his full band, where they also backed up his wife’s band, Angel Band, and once solo at Joe’s Pub.

During the BB King’s concert, someone sitting next to us told us that Bromberg grew up near Tarrytown, NY, and that he tries to play at Tarrytown Music Hall once a year. We live 3+ miles from there, and didn’t realize that there was a regular live music scene there. It got me started checking their web site, and indeed, they have some top performers coming there, albeit not that regularly.

I noticed that The Wailin’ Jennys (or just “The Jennys” as they refer to themselves) were scheduled for last night, and that the site was promoting them as the most popular show of 2006. I listened to a few short clips on the web, and bought the tickets. It was our first time at the Tarrytown Music Hall.

Previously, I’ve written that the best acoustics that we’ve experienced was at Zankel Hall, which is part of Carnegie Hall. That’s probably still true. That said, Tarrytown Music Hall is a pretty close second, which is pretty incredible, because it’s obviously a very old, Broadway style theater, with the numbers worn off of most of the seats, etc. It doesn’t look like it would carry the music as purely as it does, but indeed, it does!

Opening for the Jennys was an unannounced duo. Actually, the performer was Anthony da Costa, who brought along a friend (Oliver Hill) of his creating a duo/duet on stage. Anthony is 16 years old, yes, that’s right, 16! He’s a folk singer. Excellent voice, pretty darn good folk guitarist as well. Unfortunately, a little too precocious for our tastes on the stage. He has a very good stage presence, and the crowd loved him, so we were in a very tiny minority (possibly of size two!). Anyway, he definitely has talent, so I understand why they booked him, and perhaps he will grow into the role as he graduates from High School. 😉

Now for the Jennys. You can read their bios, both for the group, as well as the three ladies (who now tour with a guy as well, though he doesn’t sing) here, where they do a better job than I can in summarizing their backgrounds.

They sing together so beautifully, it’s hard to describe. Each has a spectacular voice individually as well. To boot, all three are extremely accomplished musicians (as you can read in their bios as well), trading off multiple instruments during the show (well, Ruth and Nicky do, while Heather plays a mean bass all night long). They are wonderful when they interact with the audience as well, warm, witty, engaging, interesting, etc.

Of course, now we need to go out and buy all of their CDs. The concert ended late, so we were too tired to hang around and buy them there at the theater.

Having mentioned the Angel Band above, and in at least two previous posts, I think I mentioned in one of them that our favorite song by them is “One Voice”. Last night, when the Jennys returned for their encore, they gave an introduction explaining how they (Ruth) came to write “Once Voice”, and then they sang it (to perfection, of course!). We were blown away that a song that we loved so much was written by a group we didn’t know, but had just enjoyed so thoroughly all evening.

We’ve listened to the Angel Band version so many times, so it is stuck in our heads as the correct version. So, while a little bit of the Jennys version was slightly different, ultimately, we both agreed that it was a little richer, and it would only takes us a few more listens before we would likely prefer it dramatically. No knock on the Angel Band, who sing that song amazingly well!

Then, for the finale (second song in the encore), the Jennys sang their third a capella song of the evening (the first two were extraordinary), but this time, without any microphones either. The three of them just stepped out onto center stage, and sang like the angels that they are. Wow!

Anyway, both the Jennys, and Tarrytown Music Hall are highly recommended!

OK, on to the obvious question: “So, three people singing stunning harmonies, are you over Girlyman yet, and if not, are the Jennys as good?” (inquiring minds want to know, and, my contract with this site requires me to mention Girlyman, as readers of my previous Suzy Boggus post will recall). 😉

For many people, the answer might be yes, but for Lois and I, the answer is no. I’ll speak for myself only (Lois has a slightly different take, but falls in the same direction). The Jennys are amazing, nothing short of it. But, their music (to me) is soothing, almost hypnotic. I was so relaxed (almost mesmerized) during most of their songs. That’s an incredible feeling, and I’ll turn to their CDs (which I will buy this week) when I want/need that feeling.

Girlyman, who are much more minimalistic in their instrumentation, elicit a much more active firing of neurons in my brain. I can’t help but sing along, tap my feet, tap the steering wheel, tap on anything in sight, etc. It’s a more visceral, perhaps even primal connection to the music. Both Lois and I felt that the Jennys could easily achieve that (they most certainly have the talent, in spades), but that’s not the kind of songs they write (or at least not the ones they chose to perform last night).

Take nothing away from them, they are firmly on my favorite groups list now, but Girlyman is still ahead of them on the list. 🙂