The Living Room

Abby Ahmad at The Living Room

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Abby Ahmad was at The Living Room last night. I only learned about the show a few days ago and immediately changed our plans (from doing nothing, we need some of those nights too every once in a while). Unfortunately, it was a 10pm start time, but you do what you have to do to see the people you want to see.

AbbyAhmadAcoustic

I’ve only seen Abby once before, performing three songs at Backscratch XVII. Here’s what I wrote about her that night:

Abby Ahmad was up next. Another first for me. Great voice, very interesting guitar play. I really liked her songs as well. In other words, someone I intend to go see doing a full set soon (she’s playing Rockwood on Thursday at 11pm, but that might be too late for me that night).

I was happy to follow through on that intention.

AbbyAhmadElectric

Again, Abby displayed an incredible voice. Again, her guitar play was quite interesting (she can definitely hold my interest as a solo artist). She’s also a very good songwriter. Again, she was accompanied by an excellent band. This time she even threw in two wonderful guests. Abby also played the piano on one number, very well.

AbbyAhmadPiano

Still, the set didn’t leave me with the feeling I expected. Some of the issues were out of Abby’s control (perhaps most), some were not (or at least I perceived them as somewhat controllable).

Before mentioning a few of those frustrations, let me heap some serious praise on the core band and the two guests. Left-to-right on the stage:

Sean Dixon on drums (once again, no good individual link). This was the fourth time we’ve seen Sean. It was also his best performance, largely because it was a full set of mostly rock, so he got to open it up more than in previous shows. The first time we saw him I mentioned that he’s particularly good on the cymbals. That was true again last night.

SeanDixon

Adam Minkoff on electric bass and light background vocals. Adam is one of our favorite bass players. He’s a very good singer and electric guitarist as well, but that’s not what he plays in Abby’s band. He also played the floor tom in one song (as he did the first time we saw Abby), but I’ll get to that later.

AdamMinkoff

Mark Marshall on electric guitar. We’ve seen Mark a couple of times now and his guitar play always impresses (though it’s often unconventional). He was quite good last night as well, but he used a few too many effects for my taste (mostly in closing out numbers in a fuzzy fashion). Like Adam above, he played a floor tom on one number.

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Jason Crosby on grand piano. Jason joined Abby for two numbers. He took a couple of long leads and otherwise played amazingly. I’ll describe his play as wow, in order to be as accurate as I can be. When we walked out, Jason was standing at the bar. Lois walked over to him to tell him how awesome he was. I was much more articulate. I looked at him and said: “What she said!”.

JasonCrosby

In case you didn’t bother clicking through to his MySpace page, let me paste his bio in here for you. Look at who he’s played with, and you’ll understand my wow above. Of course, we experienced the wow, without having a clue as to who he’s been chosen to play with/by:

Over the last decade, Jason has been a member of Robert Randolph and the Family Band and the Susan Tedeschi Band, among others. Over the last few years, Crosby has played with Carlos Santana, Pete Seeger, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews in various configurations. His discography is equally as impressive with appearances on Anastasia’s multil-platinum hit “Freak of Nature” to Tedeschi’s Grammy Nominated “Wait for Me”, just to name a few. After 15 years of touring, Jason has recently returned to his native New York to write, record, and produce with many NYC artists, while keeping his overall focus on writing and recording his own music.

Morgan Cohen (no good individual link). Interestingly, I can’t find a good individual link for her under her maiden name either, even though she achieved quite a bit of fame as Morgan McOwen. In 2009 she was a contestant on Season 8 of American Idol, getting the Golden Ticket to Hollywood. She joined Abby to sing harmony (gorgeously) on two numbers. She definitely has a great voice, so it’s easy to see even three years later how she made it to American Idol.

MorganCohen

Back to Abby and some of the issues with the set. This was a much fuller band with Abby playing electric guitar on half of the numbers. She was excellent on the guitar, but with everything so much louder, it was harder to hear (or rather concentrate on) much of her lyrics. That’s a shame, because I’ve already mentioned that I think she’s a very good songwriter.

Many of the songs were new (no issue there). They were way more rock than I expected (also not an issue, just caught me by surprise). In fact, on the first two numbers, if I closed my eyes, I could have guessed that Grace Slick was singing Jefferson Airplane songs (just ones I hadn’t heard before).

So, why was the set frustrating?

It was scheduled to begin at 10pm. The band before didn’t stop playing until 10:20 and then had to tear down. Abby and her band, but mostly Abby and Mark took a long time to set up. I would rather wait it out and get it right (obviously), but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant. Their set started at 10:40pm. Ouch.

Second, I am normally extremely impressed with the sound engineer (and system) at The Living Room. Last night was not their best, with volumes distorting at times and some of the sounds on the shrill side. That was exacerbated by the much louder rock set than the previous Rockwood numbers I had seen Abby play.

To add insult to injury, Mark’s amp acted up on him (I could still hear it, so I don’t think it completely blew out). That delayed a song quite a bit in the middle of the set. It wasn’t clear what they would do, until the next band scheduled offered up their amp. Day saved, but again, at the cost of discomfort and delay.

Abby joked that they are the “King, Queen and Court of technical difficulties” and that therefore this was just par for the course. I hope their luck improves.

Let’s end on a more positive note. The first time we saw Abby, I raved about her opening song (I didn’t know the name then). Adam didn’t play the bass, instead he drummed on a floor tom, with Sean Dixon using the rest of the drum kit. Last night they closed the show with that song (I think it’s Give It Up) and added even more of a flair with Mark Marshall also playing a floor tom, making for three drummers playing simultaneously. I loved it!

AdamMinkoffAbbyAhmadMarkMarshall

I will definitely go see Abby again, as soon as possible. Ironically, she’s playing tonight at Rockwood 1, with Mark, in a new blues/rock group that they are calling Fife and Drom. The show starts at 10pm. We’ll be at Joe’s Pub earlier and won’t be able to make this one. Next time!

Here is the set list:

SetList

Lucius at The Living Room CMJ

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Prior to last night, we’d never seen Lucius perform (that web site is not up yet, you can check out their MySpage page in the meantime). That makes them very unique in our personal history. They are the only band that we have contributed to (on Kickstarter) without ever having seem them perform (as a group or individually). In fact, we never heard their recorded music either.

Melissa Tong, one of our favorite violin/fiddle players, told us about their upcoming CD and suggested we would love them. We contributed sight unseen. That CD is delayed, but at least we finally got to see them live.

There are four members listed on the band’s Facebook page. All four were there, with a very special guest star as well. But, while they all play a critical role in the sound, the group is centered on the two women.

Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig could be right out of an episode of Mad Men. They dress alike (last night in orange pastel colored dresses). They wore matching different colored shoes (meaning, they matched each other, but their left and right feet didn’t match). They wore funky sunglasses. They defined hipsterism (or the antithesis of it… ooh… makes me think too much). Smile

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They stand on stage facing each other (so the audience gets a profile, except that we were at the extreme edge of the front row so we had a direct view of Jess and a rear view of Holly). They each play electronic keyboards, with Jess throwing in a tambourine on a stand and some additional percussion and Holly having an actual drum to her right.

LuciusPercussion

All of that is theater (aside from the instruments) and good theater at that. What’s special is their voices and their songs. Their voices are great (individually) and their harmonies are spectacular. At a minimum, it’s the two of them, but often it’s at least three voices. Quite a number of times, all five people on stage were singing together. Stunning.

HollyLaessigDanMoladJessWolfeSinging

The songs were all great too, so the vehicle for their voices is nice to sit in while you’re along for the ride. Smile

Supporting the ladies, left-to-right on stage:

James Cleare on electric guitar, a drum, tambourine and vocals. James was the special guest. He’s a member of The Spring Standards, one of the most innovative/fun groups in NYC. He clearly knows their material well, since he was singing a lot. He spices up any performance he’s a part of.

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Dan Molad on drums and vocals (no good individual link). Dan was excellent.

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Pete Lalish on electric guitar and vocals (no good individual link). Pete was excellent as well.

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Dan and Pete are both former members of Elizabeth and the Catapult. That should tell you all you need to know about their talent. Pete has also toured extensively with Ximena Sarinana (including an appearance on The Tonight Show).

Lucius is playing again tonight at 9pm at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1. We might not be able to make it, but I would be thrilled to see them again, even knowing we’d be packed like sardines there. Thanks Jason for suggesting we see them with a little more breathing room at The Living Room. It was definitely worth staying up later than we planned.

I am very thankful that I enjoyed the set so much, or I might have felt foolish blindly contributing to the making of their upcoming CD. Now I can truly appreciate the anticipation of receiving it, sometime early next year. Smile

Shenandoah and the Night at The Living Room CMJ

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After seeing Delta Rae at Rockwood, our evening was supposed to be over. Our friend Jason asked if we were heading over to see Lucius (the site is not up just yet, but you can check them out here) at The Living Room. I said that we were planning to see them tonight (tomorrow, when I was speaking last night, if you can keep up with the time travel) at Rockwood 1, 9pm (in case you’re planning on catching them).

He pointed out that they are very popular, and Rockwood might be full to capacity. We decided to stretch out our night and head over to see them.

When we walked in, another group was just finishing up sound check, so we got a bonus set in during the week-long CMJ Showcases.

Shenandoah and the Night performed a very nice set. I would attempt to describe them, but I’d fail horribly, especially if you compared my description to their own. Here’s their version, direct from their Facebook page:

Led by the bewitching singer/songwriter/producer Shenandoah Ableman (of the San Francisco-based Yard Dogs Road Show), Shenandoah and the Night offer a haunting, noir-ish sound counter-balanced by bursts of joy and infectious energy. Rootsy enough for folk enthusiasts without sacrificing its modernist edge, Shenandoah and the Night cast a wide net across the spectrums of taste and time, blending and blurring a diverse set of influences that range from the operatic anguish of Nina Simone and Kurt Weill, to the dusky psychedelic sturm und drang of the Doors and Janis Joplin.

Shenandoah Ableman sings beautifully and demands your visual attention as well. This was most evident in the number where she basically did a fan dance (literally). At the very end, from behind the fans, her LDB (little black dress) came off, revealing a body suit underneath. I think they had to cut the set short to avoid the body suit coming off during the next number. Winking smile

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ShenandoahAblemanFanDanceShenandoahAblemanBodySuit

I’m not really sure who was supporting her on stage. At least one of the band members listed on the site was not there, and finding photos of the others isn’t so simple. Rather than make a mistake, I’ll post photos, but leave their names out.

The electric guitarist was pretty good.

GuitarPlayer

The drummer was very good.

Drummer

The bass player was pretty good.

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The accordion player also played grand piano. Late in the set he did something I’ve never seen before. He placed the accordion on top of the piano and played it like it was an electronic keyboard. Cool.

AccorionAsKeyboards

Here’s the set list:

SetList

Sierra Noble at The Living Room

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Sierra Noble played The Living Room last night. Eight days earlier we we saw Sierra at Rockwood (covered here). If you told me that we would see an identical performance we would have attended, happily. Just as happily, that wasn’t the case.

SierraNoble

Sierra had a different setup (no drummer, one less guitarist and a very special female vocalist). The sound system at The Living Room is nearly always great.

Without a drummer and the extra guitar, even though there was a large overlap in the set lists, the shows had an extremely different feel to them (each equally gorgeous). It’s also interesting how changing the order of the songs ends up producing a different feel/flow to a set, even if the band was identical.

Sierra played the first few songs on acoustic guitar, then played both fiddle and guitar for the remainder of the set. Her voice was fantastic (as it always is), if a bit smokier than usual (her vocals so remind me of Alison Krauss, having nothing to do with the fact that both are fiddlers).

SierraNobleGuitar

I knew that Sierra co-wrote Human After All with Michael Logen from the first time she played it, but I thought that was the only song they worked on together. Last night she said that they’ve written three. One of the others is Happy Here, which she also played last week, but I might have missed her saying who she co-wrote it with then. They’re clearly a great team.

Sierra closed the show with the same fiddle tune, Dabe, that she closed the Rockwood show with. But, it was quite different (both were awesome) without the drum. More importantly, Sierra took really long solos and stretched the song out to show off her fiddle skills.

SierraNobleFiddle

A few minutes into the tune a few people started clapping along. In seconds, that turned into nearly everyone clapping. They clapped the beat (replacing the drum) throughout the very long song. I was mightily impressed by their timing and stamina, but all that did was make Sierra’s fiddle play all the more spectacular (it’s like the crowd’s clapping was rocket fuel for her).

I mentioned to Sierra after the show that there must be something in the water in Winnipeg which gives fiddlers extra special powers. Two of my other favorite fiddlers hail from there, Tania Elizabeth (of The Duhks) and Jeremy Penner (of The Wailin’ Jennys).

It’s only been 15 hours, and we saw two other incredible sets after Sierra’s show, but I’m already anticipating seeing her again. We bought a physical copy of her EP last night so we could get it signed. We already own a digital download (purchased on Amazon) and love it!

I mentioned to another musician friend that he should come to the show. If he hadn’t tweeted publicly, I wouldn’t be outing him here:

BergerAlex Alex Berger

Just saw @SierraNoble for the 1st time. Blown away. ow.ly/i/j8m7

Nothing more needs to be said.

Except, of course, about the talented people who supported Sierra making the show all the more special. Left-to-right on the stage:

Chris Anderson on upright bass and vocals. Chris’ upright bass filled in the bottom so well that the drums really weren’t missed (even though the drums were a very special part of last week’s set). In addition to singing background vocals on a few numbers, Chris was the primary harmonizer on Human After All.

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Chris didn’t take any verses by himself (like Martin Rivas did last week), but he sang on every chorus and on the bridge and nailed it. Great job, Sierra and Chris sounded terrific together.

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Greg Mayo on electric and acoustic guitars and vocals. I mentioned this in last week’s writeup, supporting Sierra brings out an entirely different performance from Greg (from his typical headlining guitar style). In a word, his play was fantastic, without ever stepping on Sierra even for a second.

GregMayo

Greg also provided the primary harmony on most of the numbers. Absolutely wonderful. Greg’s string of never disappointing me continues. He’s the Cal Ripken Jr. of musicians (at least for me). Smile

Rebecca Haviland was a very special guest vocalist, singing harmony on roughly 40% of the numbers. If you’ve read this space, you know what I think of Rebecca’s voice. Having it blend with Sierra’s, aaaaaaaaah.

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During one number, all four sang together, beautiful is an understatement.

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Here’s the set list:

SetList

Sierra is next appearing this Monday night (Oct 17th) at City Winery as part of a singer/songwriter circle (along with quite a number of other amazing singer/songwriters!). Unfortunately, we’ll be missing that for another pair of great singer/songwriters. CMJ week is hell when trying to choose who to see.

The week after, she’s at The Bitter End on Tuesday, Oct 25th, at 9pm. We’ll be there. I give you permission to go see her at City Winery, but I insist you come to The Bitter End either way. Winking smile

Chris Ayer at The Living Room

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Topping off an extraordinary night of music was one of our favorites, Chris Ayer. For those of you who are new here, you might require proof that Chris is one of our favorites. Luckily, I can provide that.

Two weeks ago we hosted our first house concert. We wanted a solo, guitar slinging singer/songwriter. Without hesitation, both Lois and I agreed that we should approach Chris first. He said yes, and this was the result. Lois and I share a lot of musical taste in common, but we differ a bunch as well, especially at the extremes. So, agreeing on Chris so easily tells you everything you need to know about how we feel about him.

ChrisAyer

Back to last night. We had gotten delicious doses of Chris during both Matt Simons’ and Sierra Noble’s sets. You can read about those sets here and here respectively. You can also get a flavor of the band that supported all three sets.

Let’s start with the traditional photos of Chris’ set list, first from our perspective, then his. The twist is that this time, we’ll throw in a bonus of a bit of his guitar as well (no extra charge!):

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

He kicked the set off solo, starting with two very new songs. Great start. Both were good, new material feeds the brain, old (great) material feeds the soul/heart.

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Then Chris brought the band up. A quick rundown (probably repetitious for the stauncher readers out there):

Chris Anderson on electric and upright bass plus vocals. Chris switched back to electric for most of the set, but threw in some upright to keep me on my toes, making Sierra’s set the only one that he exclusively played the upright on.

Ryan Vaughn on drums. Once again, superb.

Greg Mayo on electric guitar and vocals. Since I can never say enough good things about Greg, I feel badly (for me!) to make this one so short. Here goes: he was his usual (awesome) self.

Matt Simons on keyboards (grand piano and electronic) and heavy vocals. As I mentioned in the post about Matt, when Chris and Matt sing together, it’s magic, no matter whose song it is or which one is singing lead. No exception on Chris’ set, Matt was perfect.

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Here’s a group shot (where Matt was out of the picture).

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After a couple of songs with the band, Chris brought up Sierra Noble to sing harmony and play some violin. He gave the band (excluding Matt) a break. When Sierra and Matt sang three-part harmony with Chris, everything got cranked up another level (which only made me mad that Chris clearly was holding something back on the earlier stuff!). Winking smile

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Sierra remained on stage when the band returned.

If you know Chris Ayer’s music, then you know from the set list above what a great choice he made last night. He mixed it up with completely new stuff, great older stuff and very recent stuff. He mixed it up with solo, full band, three-part harmony (without the band), etc. If there’s anything in particular that is your favorite thing about Chris, you were sure to have at least a healthy dose of it last night. If you’re like us and love it all, it was a buffet.

In what has become a bit of a tradition at Chris’ shows, he ended the evening with a descent into the crowd to perform Roy G Biv. As he did the last time he played The Living Room, the entire band descended with him. Well, they all did except for Ryan Vaughn who remained at the drums.

Chris (and everyone else) would have none of that. Since the most critical thing Ryan would be playing during Roy G Biv is the cowbell (look up the lyrics if you don’t know why), they teased him about the fact that cowbells are notoriously portable. He didn’t protest too much. He too came into the audience with a few percussion goodies in hand.

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Once Ryan was in, the party could begin. Chris actually kept turning (slowly) in a full 360, to make sure everyone got serenaded head on.

ChrisAyerInTheAudience

The rest might be a bit hard to pick out, but here’s one shot that has Sierra in the background and Greg Mayo playing guitar. The highlight of the picture are Matt Simon’s hands, leading the audience in keeping the beat by clapping.

RoyGBivInTheAudience

A fantastic, energetic end to one of our best nights out. From 8pm until nearly midnight, without a single disappointing song, surrounded by friends who enjoyed it every bit as much as we did. It doesn’t get much better than this, but I promise, we’ll keep trying to disprove that! Smile

Sierra Noble at The Living Room

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In what is obviously becoming a regular occurrence, we discover new musicians in the following cycle: 1) they perform side-person duties with someone we regularly see, 2) we see some mini-set where they headline a portion, 3) we see them perform a full set of their own, falling madly in love with them directly.

Sierra Noble fits that cycle perfectly, but amazingly, I was indifferent after that first side-person performance (nothing negative). Then we saw her at Backscratch 13. Here’s what I wrote about Sierra that night:

Sierra Noble on vocals, acoustic guitar and violin. We’ve seen Sierra Noble backing up both Rachel Platten and Martin Rivas (back-to-back sets on the same night). I am aware of how much her fellow musicians respect and love her, but that night, while she did a fine job, I didn’t see the light. Last night, headlining the three-song set, I got it. She has an incredible voice. She writes beautiful songs.

Ha! I thought I got it, seriously, I really thought so. Last night, she hit me over the head with a sledgehammer (in the nicest way that one human being can do that to another). Here’s the point: at Backscratch, I realized she wrote beautiful songs. Last night (and now, listening to her CDs) I realize that she’s a phenomenal songwriter, consistently. In other words, she doesn’t just write beautiful songs, they pour out of her!

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At the same time, she has a great voice and style. I don’t feel that it’s necessary to compare any artist to another, but on the other hand, it’s sometimes helpful to get people interested in listening to someone new if they have a frame of reference. For me, Sierra’s voice evokes a mixture of Alison Krauss and Ruth Moody (of The Wailin’ Jennys).

The fact that Sierra and Alison both play fiddle has nothing to do with my comparison, it’s more about their voices. The fact that Sierra and Ruth both hail from Winnipeg may have more to do with the water they drink up there (the three days a year that it isn’t frozen). Winking smile

Sierra played acoustic guitar and the violin/fiddle on most songs and sang without instruments, backed by a full band on the remaining songs.

SierraNobleViolin

Sierra was backed by the same band that played with Matt Simons the set before and with Chris Ayer the next set. I’ll just mention them briefly here, then continue with a few more of the highlights of Sierra’s set.

Left-to-right on the stage:

Chris Anderson on upright bass and light vocals. On the two earlier sets Chris played electric bass. He played the upright exclusively during this set. He’s masterful on both.

ChrisAndersonUprightBassChrisAndersonSierraNoble

Ryan Vaughn on drums. Excellent (again).

RyanVaughn

Greg Mayo on acoustic and electric guitar and vocals. In my last post, I inadvertently said that Greg played both electric and acoustic (already corrected). He didn’t play acoustic during Matt’s set, but did play both on Sierra’s. On the acoustic he did some heavy finger picking (always a treat to see Greg perform varied styles!).

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Sierra also highlighted Greg on the song Bring an Angel, which they co-wrote.

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Sierra brought up Chris Ayer for two songs. The first was her amazing song Human After All, co-written with Michael Logen. We’ve seen Michael perform it twice (both times solo) and now Sierra perform it twice (both times with a male harmonizer). It’s a great song performed both ways, but give me a choice, and I’ll take the harmony every time. Make it Sierra and Chris and my heart will skip a few beats as well. Martin Rivas did an amazing job when he sang it with Sierra at Backscratch 13!

SierraNobleChrisAyerHumanAfterAll

The second song that Chris sang with Sierra was a song they co-wrote (recently) called Keep it With You. Wonderful, both the song and their performance. Chris added the acoustic guitar during this number.

SierraNobleChrisAyerGuitar

In keeping with the title Human After All, Sierra honored a friend and mentor who passed away three years ago today, July 3rd, 2008. She introduced the song saying that in most shows, she plays an upbeat fiddle medley. Instead, in memory of her friend, she would play a song he wrote for her.

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Oliver Schroer sounds like an extraordinary person (and a great musician as well). Sierra performed the instrumental, True Hearts Waltz. I’m impressed that she got through it. Clearly, this was an emotional undertaking for her. Our connection with Sierra grew immeasurably at that moment.

I started the above by relating it to Human After All. That’s what we are folks, whether we like it or not. All too often, we forget loved ones when they’re gone. Perhaps worse (though only on a few levels) is when we don’t have gratitude and love in our heart for people that help and inspire us along the way (noone makes their way through life on their own).

Witnessing Sierra Noble honor Oliver, and much more importantly, do her part in keeping his legacy alive by sharing with it people who didn’t have the privilege of knowing him, made both Lois and me very happy. That Sierra can feel and articulate this kind of human understanding at the tender age of 21 (did I fail to mention her age before?!?!?) is simply extraordinary.

Whew, back to the set. Here is the set list, though I think she might have played an additional song or two after the ones listed here:

SetList

Sierra announced that she has an EP available for purchase at iTunes and that she’s working on a new full-length CD. Given a choice, I will always purchase from Amazon.com over iTunes. Thankfully, Sierra’s EP, Possibilities, is available on Amazon. Not only did I buy it (it’s incredible), but I also discovered that she has a full-length CD from 2005 (she was 15!). I bought that too, Spirit of the Strings. It too is gorgeous.

That wasn’t enough. When I visited Sierra’s Bandcamp Page, I saw that she had a smaller version of the Possibilities EP available for full streaming (and purchase). While it only has four songs vs Amazon’s six, there is a bonus track on Bandcamp that isn’t on the Amazon version. It’s a song she played last night: Coming Home to Say Goodbye (second song on the set list). I love the song, so I had to buy this one track separately as well.

OK, now you all go out and do what I did. Let’s make sure this youngster continues to make music for a very long time!

Matt Simons at The Living Room

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We’ve seen quite a bit of Matt Simons in the past few months, but they’ve all been in his exceptional role as sideman for a number of other artists who we follow. It’s been four months since we’ve seen him headline a set. Thankfully, that drought ended last night at The Living Room.

MattSimons

Matt is a multi-instrumentalist with an excellent voice. When he headlines he always plays the keyboards (piano and electronic). I guess trying to sing and play the saxophone (he’s awesome) presents some logistical challenges (if anyone can solve that problem, I have faith in Matt). Winking smile

Matt opened the show solo with a powerful song (Miss You More) that had everyone stone silent. I laugh at my internal dialog at these kind of moments. I think “who needs a band at all?” Then the band joins, and I think “why ever play solo?”, etc. The real point is that both solo and with a band, Matt (and many others!) get it just right.

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Proving my point, right after Miss You More, Matt invited the band up. This is the same core band that played for the next two sets as well. Two of them played with Rebecca Haviland in an earlier set at Rockwood Music Hall (covered here). In other words, they played for the better part of four hours. Yeomen indeed!

I didn’t spy a set list, which indicates one of three things: 1) there wasn’t one, and Matt just winged it, 2) Matt had one on the piano and purposely hid it from me, or 3) it was written with invisible ink on invisible paper (again, probably to thwart me). Therefore, I can’t easily share with you the titles to all of his songs, though he played a number of them that I love.

The core band, left-to-right on stage:

Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris also sang light backup vocals. Chris is one of our favorite bass players. Check out my previous post (linked above in “covered here”) for more on Chris, including his singing and songwriting chops.

ChrisAndersonElectricBass

Ryan Vaughn on drums. I’ve been writing a lot about Ryan lately, as he’s been drumming more often with the people that we consistently go out to see. Our previous sightings always came when Ryan played percussion (not the drum kit) on Martin Rivas’ sets. Ryan is great and exhibited many different styles across the three consecutive sets last night.

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Greg Mayo on electric guitar and light vocals. I mentioned in the last post about my mind control abilities. On the first song that Greg appeared, he took a fantastic lead (I think he’s patented them, so if don’t want to go to jail, don’t try and copy them!). Before explaining the mind control aspect, I need to digress.

GregMayoElectricGuitar

Having true, committed fans, is one of the hallmarks of the music business. We (yes, we count ourselves as true, committed fans) will do an awful lot to support the musicians we love. Yesterday I tweeted an article that implores musicians to find a way to connect their fans with each other. Here’s a real-world example of the result of that advice.

We attended a fantastic house concert in VA hosted by Lindsie. That night featured Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino and Mike Campbell. We met Lindsie that night, due to our mutual love of Ian, Chad and Mike. Since then, Lindsie (being a true fan!) came up to see Ian Axel headline Bowery Ballroom and we hung out in front of the stage with her throughout the show. Last night, she came up again to catch these three consecutive sets and again, we sat together. Her friend Ashley (sp?) joined her this time.

HadarLindsie

A number of last night’s artists were new to Lindsie, including Greg Mayo. Before Greg took the stage, I turned to Lindsie and told her that Greg is my favorite local guitar player and that she was about to have her mind blown. Finally, back on track, immediately after his lead in the first song, I turned toward Lindsie and rolled my eyes in disbelief at how quickly he proved me correct! Smile

But, while Greg was perfect in his support of Matt on the remaining songs, he didn’t take a real lead again (no complaints). Just as they started Matt’s last song of the set, that thought came to me front and center. Of course, given my mind control powers, Greg took another great lead. Damn. I should have remembered that I probably could have called up as many leads as I wanted throughout the set. Oh well, next time! Smile

Matt called up Chris Ayer to sing and play acoustic guitar a number of times (Chris headlined the 11pm set). The two of them sings so beautifully together, whether it’s Chris supporting Matt on his songs, or vice versa (as happened a bunch in the last set).

On one number, Matt came out from behind the piano and sang, with Chris accompanying him on vocals and acoustic guitar. Gorgeous!

MattSimonsChrisAyer

Matt called up Sierra Noble to sing harmony with Chris Ayer as well. That role has traditionally been filled by Morgan Holland. Since Morgan is returning to CA for a Master’s degree, she won’t be available to sing with Matt and Chris. While Sierra is a star in her own right (and therefore won’t be available often to sing with them), having her join them last night was a real treat.

SierraNobleChrisAyerSingingHarmony

For the second to last song, both Chris and Sierra returned (after someone having to go out and find them!). This time Sierra added her violin to the mix!

SierraNobleChrisAyer

I’m a big fan of Matt and always enjoy his sets. But, I’ll definitively claim last night’s set to be the best we’ve seen so far, though doubtlessly it will be topped in the future!

Matt and Chris Ayer both leave tomorrow for a tour of the UK and Holland. Some of the dates/venues can be seen on Matt’s Facebook Page. You can also stream some of his songs there (or on MySpace linked at the top). But, to listen to Matt, I recommend you visit his Bandcamp page. There, you can hear a lot of his songs in their entirety, for free. Then you can buy all of them, or the ones you like best, etc. I love the model where you aren’t buying blind, or off an unrepresentative sample of the song.

Referring back to the “connect your fans” section above, a number of our friends were there last night (which is typical). Let me know if you prefer Kelly or Sam to wear the hat when their picture is taken. Winking smile

KellySamTeichmanKellySamTeichmanHat

Rachel

The Ramblers at The Living Room Again

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Last night posed a significant problem. We had seen only three songs of a special set by The Ramblers at The Living Room on January 29th, 2011. Here’s part of what I wrote about that set:

Then they started playing. Excellent. Definitely my kind of music. Actually, since they had so many guests, I don’t know how I would react to a normal The Ramblers set, but I’m willing to find out.

This was our next opportunity to find out, since they were playing without any guests. We had committed to coming out and were happy with that decision, until we (accidentally) started watching a 2-hour set at Rockwood Music Hall at 9pm. It was so good that leaving was a little painful. I’ve changed plans mid-stream before (that’s how we discovered Ian Axel!), but my gut told me to stick with the plan this time.

I am grateful that my instincts please me more often than they fail me, and last night was another case of making the right choice. Not because I wouldn’t have enjoyed the second hour of Richard Julian’s set, but rather because it would have taken me that much longer (perhaps months) to discover how much I like The Ramblers! Now I know that I need to see both groups. That’s just fine with me. Smile

With the guests (two fiddles and a mandolin), The Ramblers struck me as a big-sounding bluegrass band. I assumed I’d have a more stripped down experience, but similar in style, without the guests. Wrong!

While there is a hint of rootsiness (is that a word?), The Ramblers are way more Rock ‘N Roll than bluegrass. In fact, all I could think about throughout their set (every single number) was that I was hearing a modern version of The Band. Imagine my surprise when I just now read that they actually opened for Levon Helm.

There are a few reasons they remind me of The Band (sound-wise, clearly, they are not a cover band!). At the top of the list is the fact that keyboards and guitar are both central, and there are two male lead vocalist (who also harmonize with each other).

The set was fantastic from start to finish. Each member of The Ramblers deserves a shout out. Left-to-right on the stage (excuse the photos, our angle of the stage was severe):

Scott Stein on keyboards (electronic and organ) and vocals. Scott was amazing on the keyboards. On his own electronic ones, he played close to a piano sound. He would swing back and forth between that and the organ that is a permanent fixture at The Living Room. He’s one of the main reasons they sound so much like The Band.

ScottStein

Scott sings well (both lead and harmony).

Jeremiah Birnbaum on electric guitar and vocals. Jeremiah stands center stage, giving the impression that he’s the front man. To an extent, that’s likely true, but Scott certainly comes across as a partner on this journey, equal or otherwise.

JeremiahBirnbaum

Jeremiah plays the electric guitar really well (with and without the slide). He sings really well, and has a relaxed style on stage.

Shanna Zell on vocals and tambourine. Shanna sang beautifully on every number (except the two that she stepped off stage for, when she sat at our table!). She sang lead on one song and harmony on the rest. Her voice blends really well with Jeremiah’s and Scott’s.

ShannaZell

In the back row, behind Jeremiah and Shanna:

Steve Purcell on drums. We had just seen three excellent drummers (the fourth set didn’t have one). Steve was equal to the task of ensuring that our night didn’t have a second’s disappointment in the drumming category. If you think The Band, and recall that I mentioned Levon Helm above, you’ll understand how critical the drums are to this kind of sound. Steve nailed every song.

StevePurcell

He looks like he could be 15, so card him before you buy him a drink. Winking smile But, if he’s over 21, by all means, let’s everyone buy him a drink, because the boy can wield those sticks with the best of them!

Shawn Setaro on electric bass. We were 4 for 4 on previous bass players last night. Now, make that 5 for 5. Shawn was excellent on every number. While all four were excellent, the last guy (Tim Luntzel) blew me away. Shawn could have disappointed me just in comparison, even if he did a superb job. Nope, he impressed throughout the set.

ShawnSetaro

I’m so happy I made it to see The Ramblers. It could have worked out much differently, because that was our last NYC musical event for the next two weeks. If it hadn’t been as good as it was, I could have been licking my musical wounds for too long. Instead, I’m already looking forward to catching them again! Smile

Here’s their set list:

SetList

They had five copies left of their Getting There CD from the first pressing. We purchased one and I listened to it twice while writing the blogs tonight. I got to savor some of last night’s moments again. Nice!

Chris Ayer, John Schmitt and Andy Mac at The Living Room

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On April 21st, 2011, I tweeted the following:

Crushing traffic on I95 yesterday. Listening to @johnschmitt and @chrisayer saved our sanity!

I received back the following back from John:

@hadarvc Thx Radar! If you’re free on May 13th, Chris and I play the Living Room, at 10 & 11pm! Would love to say hello! I’ll have my band!

Yes, iPhone autocorrect prefers my name be Radar, such is life. Winking smile

That’s all the information we needed to lock it in our calendar (the show took place at The Living Room, as noted the tweet above). Even though something else important came up, we weren’t going to miss this show (see the very bottom of this post for our compromise/workaround). Doing my usual working backwards on the sets.

Chris Ayer started his set shortly after 11pm. I’ve written about Chris many times and how amazing he is. The last time I wrote about him I noted that Sierra Noble called Chris a poet (and I agreed). Let me take a stab at defining what I (and Lois) mean when we say that.

There are a ton of great lyricists out there. Substantially fewer of those are also poets. Great lyrics can tell a great story, have catchy rhymes or phrases and therefore clearly are the foundation of great songs. Poets create all that, but in addition, they emblazon images in your mind. Their turns of phrases are like Van Gogh’s brushstrokes. Many great songwriters achieve poetry on occasion. Poets achieve it regularly and prolifically. Chris is one such poet.

ChrisAyerSolo

Chris played his usual fantastic set. It was a blend of solo, full band and duets, all of which were equally satisfying. He played a new song, something like Hide in Plain Sight (but I’m reasonably sure it’s not that exactly). Wow, another one that had our table mesmerized.

Chris closed the show with Roy G. Biv. Lois might have tripped him on his way out if had skipped that song last night. Fortunately, she asked him to play it before the set started and he told her it was already on his set list. Winking smile

The band unplugged for Roy G. Biv. John Schmitt joined Chris. Chris, John and Matt Simons came into the audience standing in a large triangle so they could serenade different members. Chris Anderson and Stephen Chopek (the other two band members) came to the front of the stage. It was an amazing way to end a wonderful night.

In addition to bringing John up as a special guest, Chris also brought up Morgan Holland to sing with him on two songs. Perfect! John Schmitt and Morgan Holland will be playing back-to-back sets at Rockwood 1 on June 4th, at 7 and 8pm respectively. Come join us to enjoy what will undoubtedly be a great evening!

ChrisAyerMorganHolland

Speaking of upcoming shows, Chris Ayer will be at Rockwood 1 before them. May 27th at 8pm. We’ll be there too. Smile

The band, from left-to-right on stage:

Chris Anderson on electric and upright bass. Chris is one of our favorite bass players and last night was no exception. As fun as it is to listen to him play a more mellow set like Chris Ayer’s, I am distractedly looking forward to seeing Chris play with Ian Axel at the Bowery Ballroom on May 24th. Aside from the fact that it will be one of the epic nights of music in NYC, Chris Anderson will let loose in a way that tickles me to no end!

ChrisAndersonElectricBass

Stephen Chopek on drums and percussion. Stephen has quickly become a favorite drummer of ours. I was extremely pleased to see him playing with Chris Ayer last night, because he was not drumming for John Schmitt the set before. When we saw John and Chris at Jammin’ Java, Stephen drummed for both (it’s too expensive to bring two drummers I imagine). Another wonderful performance last night by Stephen.

StephenChopek

Matt Simons on keyboards (grand piano and electronic) and vocals. Matt is an excellent singer/songwriter in his own right and complements Chris Ayer perfectly when he plays sideman to him (which he does quite often). Their harmonies are wonderful and Matt’s keyboard play is excellent. While he didn’t play it last night, I love his sax playing as well.

MattSimonsMattSimonsSinging

I think we missed our tradition of showing Chris Ayer’s unique set list (from his and our vantage) the last time or two. Here is the one from last night:

ChrisAyerSetListChrisAyerSetListFlipped

John Schmitt mirrored Chris’ set (or the reverse, since John was on first) by playing solo, full band and duet as well. He just so happened to do it with an entirely different crew. While John is a somewhat newer discovery for us, you can see from the tweet that started this off, being late to the party hasn’t cost him any of our affection.

JohnSchmitt

His recent CD release, Ophelia, is a gorgeous album. John has a fantastic voice (very soulful) and he plays the guitar beautifully. Add a top band (which isn’t necessary, but always welcome!) and he too wows the crowd, every time.

We like a lot of John’s songs, but at the top are Ophelia and Ave Regina. If he hadn’t sung either of those we might have had to mug him in the (proverbial) parking lot. Thankfully, he performed both (more on each in a minute when I mention the guest stars). Both qualify as poet songs. Smile

Joining John on Ave Regina and Going Back was Lissa Farquhar on vocals. Lissa has a beautiful voice and did a great job on both songs. Ave Regina has stunning harmonies in it, in addition to Lissa taking a verse on the lead. What I particularly liked is the fact that Lissa belted out the harmony as well as the lead. Many backup vocalists think it’s incumbent on them to sing softly to let the lead vocalist shine. It’s a nice thought, but it makes the harmonies so much more difficult to appreciate. Let your voices ring out! Smile

LissaFarquhar

Joining John for his last two numbers was Chris Ayer on vocals. Another wonderful piece of harmony.

JohnSchmittChrisAyer

John’s band, from left-to-right on stage:

Greg Barbone on keyboards (organ and grand piano). The Living Room has both a grand piano on stage and a double-decker organ (the size of an upright piano). They are on opposite ends of the stage. John joked that Greg was going to be running back-and-forth, but it turned out not to be a joke. So, I could have listed Greg first or last. Since he kicked it off on the organ, first it is.

GregBarboneOrgan

Greg was great on both. We already knew he would be great on the piano, because he was also the pianist for the set before (covered shortly). The organ was covered up during that set, so I didn’t even know it was there (two feet from where I was sitting).

Brian Killeen on electric bass. We’ve seen Brian many times (mostly with Martin Rivas) and have enjoyed his play each and every time (last night included). When John mentioned that Brian had recently opened for Bon Jovi, Brian joked that it was a solo bass performance, and he did a quick and cute bass-rock-star like thing on stage.

BrianKilleen

Mike Sutton on drums (sorry, couldn’t find a good individual link to Mike). Recall what I said above, that I was expecting Stephen Chopek on drums. I was impressed with Mike’s play, but I need to hear more to form a better opinion.

MikeSutton

Here is John’s set list. Don’t believe everything you read. For example, Lissa did not join on Ophelia and there was no sax during the set (it does say “possible Sax solo” after all):

JohnSchmittSetList

Originally, we had intended to show up just for those two sets. John tweeted that Andy Mac would be on at 9pm. We’d never heard of him, but if he’s part of John and Chris’ crew, we wanted to give him a shot. It was a fun set, so I’m glad we made the effort.

AndyMac

Andy started the show off with a bang. After being ready to go, he just walked off the stage. While our attention was focused on him walking away, his band quietly slipped on Hockey Masks in honor of Friday the 13th. When Andy came back on stage, he too was wearing the mask and had a hoodie on as well. All very menacing. He sang the entire first song with the mask on.

SeanDixonAndyMacHockeyMasksFridayThe13th

That first song is an ancient classic, Build Me up Buttercup. Andy didn’t do it in the classic style. Rather, it was a very slow, Jazzy version, with a few substituted lyrics to make it dead-on for Friday the 13th. What makes me note it is that in the same week, in Philadelphia, we heard Julia Nunes play the same song (on the ukulele, in the more traditional style). The universe is telling me something, I just don’t know what, yet…

Andy has a really nice voice, plays the guitar well, and was accompanied by a tight band. While there were a number of styles performed during the set, most had a fun up-beat vibe to them.

Andy is quite funny. One of his bits was pulling out seven really bad horror movie DVDs that he found while cleaning his apartment. He promised the first seven people who bought one or more of his CDs (he had three available for sale) would get to pick which free horror movie DVD they’d like to take as a bonus.

AndyMacHorrorDVD

Andy’s band, left-to-right:

Mal Gibbes on saxophone (which looked like it was an antique and my apologies, I couldn’t find a good individual link). He performed in roughly 1/2 the numbers. He was excellent, but on most of the numbers he was trying to be super mellow and soft (more complementary than lead, even when they were clearly his leads!). On the last number, Sara, he blew it out, loud and proud and he nailed it!

MalGibbesJimMcNamara

Jim McNamara on upright bass. First, the Mac in Andy Mac is really McNamara. Jim and Andy are brothers! Second, we’ve seen Jim once before, supporting Bryan Dunn at Rockwood 1. We were there to see Vienna Teng followed by The Open Sea (Ari Hest and Rosi Golan). We showed up one set early to ensure good seats for Vienna. Here’s what I had to say that night about Jim:

Jim McNamara played an upright bass. He blew me away. I can’t say that I recall an upright bass being used by a mostly rock ‘n roll band, but Jim made it work perfectly. A few times he played leads in harmony with Bryan’s guitar. Some of those licks were pretty darn fast, and he nailed every one of them!

JimMcNamara

Suffice it to say, he was excellent last night as well, though nowhere near as highlighted as he was with Bryan Dunn’s group (perhaps there’s some sibling rivalry going on). Winking smile

Sean Dixon on drums (also couldn’t find a good individual link and thanks Sam for saving my old-man brain again!). He was excellent, in particular really interesting cymbal play. I’d like to hear more of him.

SeanDixon

Greg Barbone on grand piano. As mentioned above, Greg was outstanding. This was our first time seeing him, but certainly not our last.

GregBarbonePiano

For his last two songs, Andy called up Dave Pollack (a.k.a. Shaky Dave, also no good individual link) to play the harmonica. Very nicely done!

ShakyDavePollack

Not to slight Andy, here is his set list:

AndyMacSetList

To make the evening all the more enjoyable, we shared our tiny table with three lovely ladies, all of whom we consider friends, all met through this music scene.

After saying goodbye to a bunch of people (most of whom were on stage during the three sets), we headed off to the compromise mentioned above.

Earlier last night, The Borromeo String Quartet had a show at the TENRI Cultural Center. Melissa Tong’s brother (Kristopher Tong) is one of the violinists in the quartet and she has told us how awesome he and the quartet are (and she should know!). We’ve missed them once before when they played in NY and we felt badly missing them again last night (we would have had to leave at intermission and we would have missed Andy Mac’s set completely).

In addition to the show, there was a surprise Birthday Celebration for Kristopher afterward. His parents flew in, but the bigger surprise was that his other sister flew in too. Since she wasn’t landing in LaGuardia until 11:30pm, Melissa told us that we could show up as late we needed and the party would still be going. She was correct!

KristopherTongMelissaTong

We walked into the café at 12:30am and indeed, got to meet everyone and wish Kristopher a happy birthday. Even though it was brief, it was a very happy time. I particularly enjoyed meeting Melissa’s Dad and chatting with him a bit. It’s no wonder his kids are so awesome!

Another late night tonight, but you gotta do what you gotta do… Smile

The Ramblers at the Living Room

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This is post #2 of the evening. #1 was about Sarah Jarosz and Alex Hargreaves and can be read here.

Under normal circumstances, we would have stayed at Rockwood and caught Leslie Mendelson at the 9pm set. We’d never heard her before, but we were planning to be at Rockwood 1 for the 10pm set anyway and I liked what I heard on Leslie’s MySpace page.

Then we heard that Melissa Tong was sitting in with The Ramblers at The Living Room. That was enough to make us change our plans.

We walked in to The Living Room at 8:50pm. The place was a zoo (not in the child-like wonder way). The bar was mobbed, the inner room where the music is played even worse. We could barely make it in three feet from the curtain dividing the two rooms.

We watched the last three songs of Shanna Zell’s set on a TV that shows the live action from the stage for those who are too far back to see it. Shanna has a nice voice but otherwise couldn’t hold my attention. Given the crowd (and who knows how late her set got started), the show went past 9pm. When it was over, it took us another few minutes to get an additional 20 feet closer to the stage, still behind everyone who was seated.

The Ramblers had a number of special guests (they called it an orchestrated acoustic set), so it took them extra long to transition from Shanna to their setup. There were nine people on stage so it wasn’t surprising, just frustrating to wait, uncomfortably at that.

Then they started playing. Excellent. Definitely my kind of music. Actually, since they had so many guests, I don’t know how I would react to a normal The Ramblers set, but I’m willing to find out.

TheRamblersAndGuests

Thankfully, during the first two songs, the violins (yes, there was a second violin joining Melissa Tong) were front and center (literally, at center stage and figuratively, as in highlighted throughout the piece). We were far back, so apologies for the fuzziness of the few photos worth posting.

Jeff Young played the violin amazingly (as Melissa always does). Together, bliss.

MelissaTongJeffYoung

Melissa didn’t play during the third song. Jeff was featured, as well as another guest Bill Bell on mandolin. I wanted to stay because I love mandolin so much (did you read the Sarah Jarosz post?). While Jeff was incredible, Bill’s part was nothing special. This is not a comment on Bill’s skill. When he was sound-checking before the set, I was quite impressed with the licks he was throwing around.

Anyway, because the set started so late, we had to run out after the third song. I was sorry to miss more of The Ramblers (and Melissa and Jeff in particular), but very happy to get out of that crowd.

Between Sarah and The Ramblers, we had a quick and exceptional meal at Sugar Café. It looks like a hole-in-the-wall on the corner of Houston and Allen. We’ve walked by there a hundred times and never considered going in before. What a mistake. We loved our food (fast and fresh) and the staff were as outstanding as the meal. Don’t go for the atmosphere, but if you’re on the Lower East Side and need something good, quick and reasonably priced to eat, I recommend it.