The Duhks

The Duhks at Joe’s Pub

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We first discovered Joe’s Pub because of The Duhks. The Duhks were an automated recommendation for me from Amazon.com, based on the fact that I had purchased Nickel Creek CDs from them. I listened, I liked, a lot.

After that, I bought both Duhks CDs, and checked where they were touring. I noticed they were coming to NYC to Joe’s Pub. We had never heard of Joe’s, but went to see them there. We loved the show, thoroughly, and bought their third CD at the show. That was roughly two years ago. We’ve been to Joe’s dozens of times since, and it’s our favorite place to see live music.

Shortly after we saw them (measured in months) Jessee Havey (their lead singer) left the band. She was replaced by Sarah Dugas, announced as an interim selection, until the band made a longer-term choice. Sarah ended up staying for the long term, and the percussionist, Scott Senior was replaced by Sarah’s brother, Christian Dugas, a drummer with a complete drum set.

We knew that they released a new CD a month ago, but we decided to buy it at the show to more directly support the band.

We knew we loved their music (Lois had a handful of songs she played over-and-over in the car, and I like a broader selection of their stuff from all three CDs), and we wanted to share that experience with others, so we bought four tickets to the show. That’s often a risk, because while music is universal, each person’s taste is hardly universal.

Since Joe’s serves really good food, we figured that it would at least be a nice social outing. Sparing you the crazy details of how we ended up with our specific guests, two of our married male friends came, with each of their wives having previous commitments.

The tickets had the show starting at 7:30pm, but the outside sign said 7pm. It turned out that they had a special guest star opening the show for them at 7pm, but I’ll cover him later. He ran over (knowingly), and after resetting the stage, The Duhks came on at 7:45pm.

Normally, Joe’s Pub gets the acoustics down pat. On occasion (unfortunately, not infrequently enough, as I’ve now written about this a few times), they screw it up, pretty badly at times. Last night was one of those times, but The Duhks have changed in a number of ways, and that change didn’t help out with the poor sound management.

The first obvious change was from a percussionist (Scott Senior), to a full drum kit (Christian Dugas). Christian is a fantastic drummer, from every perspective. Unfortunately, a full drum kit overwhelms the roots sounds and instruments that characterize The Duhks. That means that everyone else in the band needs to amp up more, causing more problems for the sound engineer, etc. When the sound system isn’t perfect, the problems accelerate quickly, to the point of no return.

We had an inkling of what was to come before the show even started. One of the founders of the band, Leonard Podolak was out on the stage helping the opening act pack up, and he was squatting on the stage about 12 inches from Lois. Lois told him how much we love them, and asked whether they were going to play her favorite songs (she mentioned them by name, she didn’t assume he knew which ones were our favorites). 😉

Leonard told her that they don’t play those songs any longer, now that Sarah is in the band. Given that Sarah’s voice is quite similar (earthy, husky, full-bodied, etc.) to Jessee, neither of us understood the comment. After the fact, I worried that perhaps this was another Wailin’ Jennys moment, where they no longer perform live any songs written by Annabelle Chvostek. Who knows?

In any event, Leonard didn’t lie. They mostly played songs from the new CD (we bought a copy before the show started, and I’ve listened to it today) plus a few from their old albums (none of our favorites), plus a few new covers.

The show was awful, on a number of levels. First, the sound was horrible. The guitarist, Jordan McConnell is normally amazing. He’s probably got the fastest right hand I’ve ever seen, and he plays a mixture of the best rhythm guitar, with fantastic leads. Last night, the only thing you could hear out of his guitar was pure bass. It almost sounded like pure feedback. No strumming or leads. It was a crushing disappointment.

Partially, it was due to our placement right up against the stage, where the drum was blaring in our ears. That doesn’t explain it entirely though. The fiddle player, Tania Elizabeth is brilliant. She’s in my top five favorite fiddle players, and we’ve seen a ton of great fiddle players in the past two years. She also sings harmony on a number of songs (really well).

Last night, it was hit or miss whether you could make out the fiddle. On some numbers, clear as a bell (and Tania hasn’t lost a step), on others, muddled sound or no sound. Quite a few times Tania had to gesture desperately up at the sound board, pointing at her fiddle and raising her thumb up, indicating that she needed more volume.

Leonard Podolak played the banjo extremely well, and ironically, you could make out most of the notes he played all night long. Still, they were in the distant background, but at least audible. One of our guests noted after the show that it was a very weird feeling to be sitting two feet from the banjo, but only hearing the banjo sound coming from the far corner of the stage. It was disorienting. I agree.

Sarah had her voice on, but also had to complain to the sound person that her mic was not reliable. She conjectured that the cable was loose, and was making the mic cut in and out. On one song that Leonard sang lead on, he had to switch positions on stage with Sarah, because he too felt that his mic was garbling his sound. Ugh…

So, you’d think that all of the problems last night could be summed up as sound related, either with physical equipment problems, a poor sound engineer, or a mixture of the two. Alas, that wouldn’t be correct, at least not for our taste.

Basically, this band bears little resemblance to The Duhks that we knew and loved. Sure, they are absolutely exceptional musicians (not that you could hear Jordan to be sure, but trust me, he’s spectacular!). Somehow, adding Sarah and Christian Dugas has changed the soul of this band.

I’m sure that they will find many new fans, but they will also leave some old ones behind, including us. Basically, they want to be more of a Rock band, in Roots clothing. That’s fine, but it’s not our style. They’re too loud (regardless of the sound problems) for that particular mix of instruments, as well as for our taste. To give a concrete example, they closed with a rock cover, including mixing in some Whole Lotta Love there. Sorry folks, this is the wrong configuration of instruments and musicians to pull that off.

Sarah has the pipes to sing that stuff, and clearly she’s pulling the band to play that, but the fit is so bad as to be laughable. It’s a true shame.

All that said, I listened to the entire CD today, and it’s not bad. Clearly, it’s mixed way more professionally than last night’s show was, and I was in control of the volume, so I could listen at pleasant levels. I’m not sorry that we bought the CD, but I doubt Lois will ever listen to it, she was so turned off by the performance.

On to the opening act. Leonard Podolak went to high school with Luke Doucet. Luke is an incredible Rock guitarist. He was accompanied by his wife, Melissa McLelland (singing and playing rhythm electric guitar), Catherine Popper (playing electric bass) and Rob Heath on the drums (Luke had never played with Rob before).

We didn’t come prepared to hear loud Rock music, thinking that The Duhks would have a more similar sound for their opening group. Of course, we didn’t know that The Duhks were morphing more toward this sound, nor that they were promoting a friend more than trying to match the crowd’s taste in music.

That said, Luke is incredibly talented. His amlifier was three feet away from us, so we had no trouble hearing his fantastic leads. In fact, two people in our party put in ear plugs when he started playing, that’s how little trouble we had hearing him. That said, the microphones for his voice and Melissa’s, were too soft in comparison. I could make out most of the words, but partially because I could see his lips move.

He’s a good songwriter as well, and I enjoyed the lyrics that I was able to make out. I liked their harmonies as well, though they were definitely overshadowed if not drowned out.

Luke said that he was given 25 minutes to complete his set. He took 35. That was 10 minutes less for the headliner, his friends, so who knows how they worked that out…

Last night was the first time that I left Joe’s Pub with a ringing in my ears, and a generally unpleasant feeling due to the loudness and poor sound quality. 🙁

Anyway, even though we didn’t get to talk about it until after the show, I knew that Lois was cringing during most of The Duhks performance (as was I) over the fact that we picked this show to bring our friends to (we see most concerts alone). We had a lovely time with them, and enjoyed an excellent meal and drinks before the show, and we always love every opportunity to see them, but still, it would have been nicer if the music was special too.

Still, we have a lot to thank The Duhks for. If not for The Duhks, we might never have discovered Joe’s Pub in the first place. If we had never discovered Joe’s Pub, we would definitely never have discovered our favorite band, Girlyman. Girlyman is a band that we’ve never seen alone. In the four times that we’ve seen them so far, we took two people three times, and three people once.

We’re about to see them three times in close proximity. We’re bringing 12 people to one show, 14 to another the next night, and two weeks later four people (all of the above includes us in the count, with no other duplicates among the three shows!). We aren’t worried in the least that anyone we bring to a Girlyman show will be disappointed. We know we won’t be either.

Finally, some positive news from last night. When we go to Joe’s, 70% of the time we take a bus, 30% a cab. Last night, the second we got to the corner, we saw the bus waiting at a red light. We didn’t have to run, but we had to hustle a bit. When we boarded the bus, I noticed that there was a piece of paper sticking out of the slot where I would have inserted my MetroCard. Clearly, the box was broken, and the ride was about to be free, even though the driver never waved anyone on, they all just figured it out.

It’s not the savings of the $4 (though I’m not complaining about that), it’s actually more the fact that I deferred having to buy a new MetroCard by two rides. It also sped the ride up a bit, because no one had to fumble to get the MetroCard into the reader in the correct orientation.

The biggest joy about it was watching everyone’s expression as they realized they didn’t have to pay (I include myself as well!). There was an uncontrollable smile that overtook each and every person’s face. I kid you not. They felt that they were getting away with something. Something that they knew they secretly deserved to get away with.

It’s not possible to describe how different an experience it is to ride on a NYC bus, with 100 other people, and see most of them smiling at least at one point during the ride. I’m not sure it’s ever happened before, and it may never happen again. 🙂

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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We’ve been to three previous shows in this series and loved all of them. The first one, was the only show we’ve had to stand the entire time at Joe’s Pub. We were away a few weeks ago and missed one show. Last night was another in the series. We didn’t find out about it until last week, but were lucky enough to get tickets. These shows always sell out.

Here is a shot promoting the sponsors of the series. They deserve the attention!

CMA Sponsors

CMA Sponsors

As I’ve mentioned in the past when reviewing these shows, typically, these aren’t the most polished performances by seasoned performers. It doesn’t matter. There is a raw power to hearing a song (that you know well!) sung by the person that actually wrote it. You often get a completely different image than the one you associate with the star who made it famous. They also tell some great back stories, which are interesting and often hysterical as well.

In the past, there has been an occasional ringer in the bunch. By that I mean someone who does indeed perform a lot, and therefore raises the level of the performance beyond the others. One notable example of that was Ronnie Bowman. He’s been a star in his own right for ages, and deservedly so. As you’ll see below, all four guests (Bob DiPiero is always there) were great performers!

Last night there were five people on stage. The one staple is the host for each of these shows, who is also in the CMA Writers Hall of Fame, Bob DiPiero. He always does a great job as both host, and performer, and last night was no exception. The crowd loves every story he tells and every song he sings.

Here’s a broad shot of the stage:

CMA Lineup

CMA Lineup

He sat in the middle of the stage. The format is the same each time, all of the artists sit on the stage together, but they go one at a time in line singing one of their famous songs. The others join in on occasion but often, the songwriter is doing their song solo (Bob is the most common accompanist).

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

With that, I’ll name last night’s performers as they sat on the stage, left-to-right:

Chris Tompkins had an electric keyboard in front of him. He’s excellent on the keyboards and sings quite nicely. His songs are fantastic. The crowd loved every second of Chris. He’s a Grammy winning songwriter, for the Carrie Underwood hit Before He Cheats.

Last night was Chris’ wife’s birthday, and she’s pregnant as well. I had the privilege of sitting shoulder to shoulder with her, so I got to congratulate her personally, and tell her how awesome her husband is. They were definitely having a blast being in the Big Apple. 🙂

Chris Tompkins

Chris Tompkins

Karyn Rochelle was next, with her acoustic guitar. Karyn only played the guitar on her own songs, but she also sang backup for some of the other artists. She has a stellar voice, and of course, by virtue of being invited to this series, writes great songs as well! She penned Kellie Picklers hit Red High Heels (for example). Bob joked (though it was clear that it wasn’t really a joke!) that Kellie sings it like Karyn, rather than the other way around!

Karyn Rochelle

Karyn Rochelle

On the other side of Bob:

Dave Berg played acoustic guitar. He has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well, and writes fabulous songs. He has a great stage presence as well. He did the first verse of one of his big hits in Bob Dylan’s voice, and it was a hoot!

Dave Berg

Dave Berg

Jedd Hughes (an Aussie!) rounded out the group, playing the acoustic guitar. Of all the performers we’ve seen in the four times we’ve been to this series, Jedd is the best musician. His guitar playing is superb and the others often highlighted him playing lead during their numbers, which was always good for a big ovation from the crowd. He sings well too, and writes beautiful songs.

Jedd Hughes

Jedd Hughes

So, we have loved all four of these. Last night we already purchased tickets for the next one in the series, September 9th. We also bought tickets to one of my favorite groups, The Duhks, for the next night, September 10th. The Duhks are the reason we discovered Joe’s Pub to begin with, so it will be great to see them there again!

Last night was different (and in that sense very special) from the other CMA Writers Series shows. All of the performers were individually polished and collectively much more polished than previous shows. We’re happy even when that isn’t the case, but when the performances also match the quality of the writing, it’s just double goodness! 🙂

Since we purchased our tickets late, we got a little bit of a shock when we were told that no dinner reservations were available. That meant that we’d be standing again, like we did the first time we attended one of these shows. That’s simply not fun for us (even though we did love that show!). Luckily, and thankfully, Lois called two days in a row to check, and indeed one table opened up. It turned out to be our favorite table, so that ended up being a wonderful surprise as well!

My Seared Tuna was perfect, as was my chocolate martini (which I hadn’t had at Joe’s in many months!). Welcome back chocolate martini, I missed you! 😉

Canada Rocks

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We love a number of Candian artists. They are producing very fresh sounds north of the border. At the top of our list is/are The Wailin’ Jennys. Some others include The Duhks, Celine Dion, Don Ross, Antoine Dufour, Barenaked Ladies, Chantal Kreviazuk, Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan and many others.

Today, I was alerted to the following short blog post. That post includes the following link to the Candian Broadcasting Corporation’s live concert archives, all available for streaming! It’s a very long list, so there’s lots of music to discover and listen to.

There is a concert by The Duhks, and one by the Jennys there as well, so you can’t go too wrong. 🙂

Rhonda Vincent at Joe’s Pub

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Friends of ours were coming into town this week from Vancouver. They were free Monday night (last night) so we suggested an early dinner followed by a concert at Joe’s Pub at 9:30pm. Rhonda Vincent and The Rage were performing. She’s the queen of Bluegrass Music (which I love). We sent them a link to a YouTube video of her, and they agreed to the plan.

As my regular readers know, Joe’s Pub is one of our favorite places. That said, they are not without their problems, and the cumulative effect is getting a little annoying. This is only the second time that we’ve gone to the late(r) show. We discovered Joe’s Pub when I was looking to see if The Duhks were playing in NYC. They were playing the 9:30pm show at Joe’s, and we didn’t know any better, so we booked the tickets and went.

The doors are supposed to open at 9pm for the 9:30pm show. They never do, because they never clear out the folks from the earlier show in time to do that. That’s not the biggest issue, although on a night as cold as last night was, and with us arriving too early (8:30pm), an extra 15 minutes standing in the frigid cold was less than pleasant.

What’s annoying is that they insist on you ordering dinner in order to reserve a table. That’s not a problem with the early show, because they open the doors at 6pm (well, never before 6:05, ever, and sometimes later), but the shows generally start at 7 or 7:30pm. So, you have time to relax, order dinner, and not be rude to the performers.

For the 9:30pm show, you order at 9:29, and the food doesn’t come out until after 10pm, when the show has been on for 30 minutes already. I don’t mind buying the same amount of money’s worth of drinks in order to reserve the table, but the food part and the slow service is marginally annoying.

Anyway, last night’s plan was to challenge the written policy of dinner only, and have dinner in advance, and only drinks (possibly dessert) at the show. The best laid plans…

Our friends spent the day doing something that sounds incredible, flying around in Zero Gravity! They were part of a five hour program run by this company. The program ended with some kind of food, so when our friends got to our apartment, they weren’t that hungry. So, we hung around our apartment for a while, and then headed straight to Joe’s, intending to eat there.

Since I had had the Seared Tuna twice there in the past 10 days, I switched to a cheeseburger. Excellent as well.

On to the show. The only substitution from the normal band was the banjo player. Kenny Ingram’s wife had some medical problem, and he stayed behind to be with her. Daniel Grindstaff sat in for him (or rather, stood all night), and he was amazing. While all of them (including Rhonda) are excellent musicians, Daniel (on the banjo) and Hunter Berry (on the fiddle) were particularly notable.

Rhonda’s voice is excellent. Unfortunately, they never quite got her microphone level right the entire night. I’ve never had that happen before at Joe’s. Considering that I was closer to her than anyone else (other than the band), having my left elbow on the edge of the stage right in front of her, I was able to hear and enjoy the performance, but it could have been better.

As evidence of how close we were to her, here’s a not-so-great shot, that did not use a telephoto lens. 😉 (as always, click to enlarge):

Rhonda Vincent at Joe’s Pub

One minute before the show started, a guy from the back came up to Lois and told her that there were a bunch of guys from Fort Hood in the back (at least that’s what I heard), and could she (Lois) make sure to ask Rhonda to play God Bless The Soldier (which is a beautiful song, specifically inspired by a female soldier from Fort Hood!). I guess that Lois projects an image of getting things done (which is interesting, since she’s most definitely the get it done person in most groups). She said she would.

Immediately (before they started to play), Lois called over the guitarist (Darrell Webb) and relayed the message. He said he would tell Rhonda. He appeared to a minute later, but for all I know, he was telling her that they needed to call security on Lois, or at least keep an eye on her. 😉

All in all, an excellent show. She’s really wonderful, and so are The Rage. She’s really beautiful, and looks like she’s 30. That’s not likely, as she told the crowd that she’s been married for 24 years, and has two daughter’s, ages 21 and 19! Lois and I need to get some of the water that they have in the Missouri town that she’s from. 😉

When Joe’s Pub personnel signaled Rhonda that she needed to get off, she sang one last song before leaving the stage. To that point, she hadn’t sung God Bless The Soldier. Lois tried to catch her attention before she got off, but I stopped her. I suspected that she was saving that for the encore.

When she came out for the encore, she had a guitar (first time for the night, as she played the mandolin for all other numbers), and only Hunter Berry (the fiddler) came out with her. Lois called her over (have I mentioned that Lois is a get it done person?). Rhonda leaned down and Lois told her about the Fort Hood request. Rhonda said that’s exactly what she intended to play for the encore. All was good with the world, as she did a wonderful version, including telling the inspiring story behind the song, and we all left on a high note!

We had a great time, and would definitely see her again given the chance. We’d also go back to the 9:30 show if the right performer was there, but we’d be gnashing our teeth all the way. I am grateful that the majority of the shows we have been interested in are the 7-7:30 ones, and I hope that it will continue to be the case.

Coincidence or Serendipity?

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You be the judge. 😉

As many of you know, Joe’s Pub is one of our favorite places to see a concert. We’re going again later this week, but that in itself is a good enough story to merit its own blog after the show. None of you may recall how we came to discover Joe’s Pub in the first place.

In this incredibly long post I mention seeing a number of acts at Joe’s Pub. The Duhks were the first, and I was specifically searching for any places that they were playing, which is how we first heard about Joe’s. (As an aside, pointing toward the serendipity angle here, The Duhks was a recommendation by Amazon.com for me based on the fact that I had purchased Nickel Creek CDs from them in the past, and they turned out to be a wonderful discovery!)

During that original The Duhks concert, they discussed on stage that they were really good friends with a group called The Mammals, and that they were influenced by them. That same week, The New York Times wrote an article about this genre, and included both The Duhks and The Mammals in the article, with glowing reviews of both.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to see The Mammals live, but the one time they were scheduled to be in NY, we were at Zope, and were not able to rearrange our schedule. The person The Duhks most talked about was Ruth Unger (who’s father Jay Unger was/is also a musician). Another member of The Mammals is Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Pete Seeger’s grandson!

In another recent post, I talked about how wonderful The Tarrytown Music Hall is. Two months ago, I noticed that they had The Mammals scheduled for last night. We were already going to be in NY, so this was perfect. I snapped up two very good orchestra seats, and was really looking forward to the show.

We got home on the 11th (concert was scheduled for the 19th), and on the 12th, I got an email informing me that the concert was cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. This was definitely a big disappointment for me…

Switching gears, which will momentarily appear to be a complete non-sequitur…

In August 1987, Lois was working at Citibank. Her boss sent her to a conference in Vail, CO. As a bonus for a particularly grueling stretch of work that Lois successfully completed, he offered to pay for my airfare so that I could tag along. The conference was from 8am-noon, Monday-Friday that week, so Lois was free every afternoon and evening. I spent the mornings reading John Barth’s The Tidewater Tales. Barth is still one of my all-time favorite novelists, and The Tidewater Tales is simply an awesome book. The first 80 pages are torture to get through, even for a die-hard Barth fan, but the torture is worth it, because the rest of the book is simply amazing. In the end, he wraps it up nicely, and the first 80 pages finally make sense…

In the afternoons, Lois and I did things we rarely even think of doing, let alone actually do. One day, we rented a canoe and paddled around a gorgeous mountain lake. Another day we took a gondola (cable car) up to one of the higher mountains. On another day, we went horse-back riding. Now comes the connection with this adventure, and The Mammals disappointment.

The minute Lois got up on the horse (we were in a large group of tourists), she started to cry. Yes, literally, cry. A woman on a nearby horse had her 3-year-old daughter with her on the same saddle. When Lois started to cry, the baby started to cry too (she was fine until Lois started crying). The woman looked over at Lois and loudly said: “Hey New York, stop crying or my child will refuse to stay on the horse!”

Lois was startled into stopping, and sure enough, the baby stopped crying as well. The rest of the ride was uneventful. Afterwards, we chatted and laughed with the woman. We agreed to meet later that night for dinner. We had a lovely meal with her and her husband (who was not there for the horse incident) and were very glad to make two new (and very interesting) friends.

Not surprisingly, we never saw them again (they lived in Colorado Springs at the time). Lois stayed in touch by phone for a while with the woman, but eventually, that connection faded as well. Last year, Lois did some searches on Google and found the husband’s name as a Department Chairman at Notre Dame. It would be too coincidental for this not to be the right person, so she wrote to him, and indeed, we found them again.

Two hours after receiving the email saying that The Mammals concert was canceled, Lois got an email from the woman, saying that they were going to be in NYC this weekend, for her big birthday (it has a 0 at the end, but still only a single digit at the front) 😉

They are seeing Wicked this afternoon (another amazing coincidence?!?), but were free on Friday night for dinner. Of course, if The Mammals weren’t canceled, we would have missed them. We got together for a great meal and great conversation at our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Rio Grande, and we hope to see them for brunch again tomorrow morning, before they leave town again.

It turns out that he’s on leave this year from Notre Dame, on a research fellowship at Princeton, so we will likely get to see them a few more times before they head back to Indiana.

Obviously, I consider this incredibly serendipitous, but some of you might think it’s mere coincidence