The Living Room

Alex Berger and The Bowmans at Living Room

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We weren’t scheduled to be in NYC last night. When we ran into Alex Berger on Saturday night at City Winery and he mentioned that he was playing on Monday at The Living Room. That was all we needed to hear to rearrange our schedule and stay in the city a few extra days.

Alex is a wonderful singer/songwriter with excellent piano skills. He is primarily a master of Jazz/Blues/Ragtime styles, though he’s by no means boxed in there.

AlexBergerPiano

Listening to Alex sing and play causes me to instantly transport to a simpler time and place. My body completely relaxes and I’m lost in the journey. He’s a crooner for those of you old enough to know the term. 🙂

We’ll have to see if he can continue to write such lovely songs if his love-life stops throwing material at him. 😉

We’ve seen Alex a few times before, but he still managed to surprise us last night. One one number, he brought up the incredible Adam Levy to play the guitar while Alex sang (no piano). It’s a song they co-wrote last year. You can see a black and white YouTube video of them playing this song.

AdamLevyAlexBerger

Sitting (and not playing) on the right in that video is the wonderful bass player Tony Maceli. Last night, Tony accompanied Alex throughout the set, including joining Alex and Adam on this number. Adam took an incredible guitar solo (accompanied by Tony), and Tony took a wonderful bass solo with Adam supplying the rhythm.

TonyMacelli

But, that’s not the surprise. Surprise! What was new was Alex picking up Adam’s guitar (before Adam came on stage) and Alex did a song we’d seen him play before on the piano, but this time he did it on the guitar. He did a very nice job, and I look forward to him arranging guitar parts for existing and future songs as well!

AlexBergerGuitar

The other major surprise (for a very different reason), was getting see the amazing Adam Christgau on drums. I’ve written about Adam many times, as he’s the primary drummer for The Paper Raincoat, ambeR Rubarth, Ian Axel, Greg Holden, Alex Berger and many others who we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing live yet (he’s one busy guy!).

AdamChristgau

From seeing Adam’s tweets over the weekend, I knew he was very sick. Still, he played a show (perhaps two!) on Sunday night. But another artist that he plays with, Jenny Owen Youngs tweeted yesterday that she was off to Maine for a week of songwriting with a bunch of people, including Adam! So, I was sure he was not going to be there last night.

It turns out that Adam is joining them this coming weekend, and even though he was still incredibly sick, he was as good as he always is, adding to our enjoyment of Alex’s set. Adam, you should have stayed in bed for your sake, but for ours, we thank you for dragging yourself out! 🙂

Alex’s set last night was made possible through an invitation by The Bowmans for Alex to open for them. The Bowmans have a residency this month at The Living Room, performing on three consecutive Monday nights at 9pm, beginning last night. We decided to stay to hear them as well.

The Bowmans are (beautiful) identical twin sisters from Iowa, who now make their home in Brooklyn (as so many excellent indie artists do). While they indeed look alike, I would bet serious money that I could tell them apart even if they went out of their way to fool me. There, I’ve laid down the gauntlet! 😉

They both have exceptional voices, with a lot of range, clarity and power. Their harmonies are anything but vanilla, and the sound is often hauntingly beautiful. Sarah accompanies them on the guitar on every song (except for one a capella number). Sarah is also the primary songwriter (at least for last night’s set).

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Claire said that she wrote the a capella number that they performed. She also played the glockenspiel on one or two numbers, and used a shaker a few times. She had two tambourines, and played one or both to excellent effect.

ClaireBowman1Tambourine ClaireBowman2Tambourines ClaireBowmanGlockenspiel

Glockenspiel

As beautiful as their sound is, it also felt pretty dark throughout the set. There is a brooding, angst-ridden quality. If you’re in the mood to delve into those dark places (lyrics or music), then The Bowmans may be exactly what you’re looking for.

We had a lovely evening out and are very glad we changed our plans. If we were younger, we would have wandered a few blocks over to Rockwood Music Hall to catch Ari Hest and Rosi Golan, neither of whom we’ve had the pleasure of seeing live yet. A number of the people who attended Alex Berger and The Bowmans did just that.

Sweet Bitters at Googies

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Last night we saw Sweet Bitters perform at Googies. We’ve seen Sweet Bitters once before, at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, and I shared my thoughts about that show in this post.

Sweet Bitter

Sweet Bitters

Last night was not just a normal show, but rather a fund-raiser, to help Sweet Bitters put together enough money to put out a professional CD. They have more than enough material do so, but money is always a hard thing to come up with.

We really like their music. We also really like Sharon Goldman and Nina Schmir as people. So, in addition to looking forward to another opportunity to see them perform, we wanted to support their fund-raising effort.

There will be 13 songs on the new CD (which they have already begun recording). Last night they performed all 13 songs, as well as one request which was shouted out from the crowd. Lois commented to me after the show that the requested song, Rich Little Poor Girl, should be on the CD too. 🙂

Of course, they were wonderful, as they were at Pete’s. Like Pete’s (which can seat roughly 24 people), Googies is small. It’s a lounge, upstairs from The Living Room (which is a bar and music club, and much larger than Googies itself). Googies can probably seat 40, and can squeeze another 20 (I’m guessing) standing in the back. To repeat, it’s really a lounge, where people are meant to drink and socialize while a piano player serenades them softly in the background.

That makes for an incredibly intimate experience, which last night definitely was. Sharon plays guitar (very well) and sings (beautifully). She also writes wonderful songs. Nina plays guitar (very well), sings (beautifully) and plays keyboards (extremely well). She also writes wonderful songs.

At Pete’s, Nina played electronic keyboards. Last night, she played on the real grand piano that is a permanent fixture at Googies (it is, after all, a lounge). It’s likely that with my eyes closed I couldn’t really tell the difference between a good electronic keyboard (played through a good sound system) and a real grand piano. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Nina play on the real grand piano. 🙂

Googies Grand Piano

Googies Grand Piano

At Pete’s, the women were alone on the stage. Last night, they brought along Andrew Frawley to accompany them on the drums. He’s an exceptional drummer in general, but last night, he was the perfect complement to Sweet Bitters. In a room that size, with that sound system, and with the mostly folk genre of their music, most drummers would have overwhelmed them. Andrew was masterful with the brushes (no sticks last night) and not only accompanied them, but he was interesting to listen to just for the beats that he created.

This bodes well for the new CD, as Andrew is playing drums on that as well. He is also the principal engineer on the new CD, and it’s being recorded in his studio!

Sharon mentioned that they haven’t settled on a name for the new CD. Lois told her that she favors Falling Into Place (which just happens to be the title to a gorgeous song of Sharon’s), for many reasons. The minute Lois mentioned it to me I agreed wholeheartedly.

If I had to take Sweet Bitters to task it would be on one issue. They have been together long enough, and perform together very well, yet still make it apparent that a song is either Sharon’s or Nina’s. Don’t get me wrong, we like knowing who wrote a song. But, the way they do it, makes it feel like they are individual performers, sharing a stage, rather than a duo where the individuals happen to write songs separately.

Aside from the banter (“You do a couple”), it’s apparent in a different way. Each sings their own songs start-to-finish (with harmonies by the other, but no verses led by the other). In every one of Nina’s songs, Sharon sings harmony, but always puts down her guitar, even when Nina is playing keyboards. In other words, they don’t arrange the songs to use both of their talents together. Not a huge deal, but I think worth noting (and fixing).

In addition to hearing terrific music last night, we had a great time with a wonderful bunch of people who were there to support Sweet Bitters. There was a raffle (we lost), and some very nice items available via a silent auction. The ladies handed out very nice goody bags to all the attendees. The atmosphere was warm and inviting and we enjoyed every minute of the evening.

As a bonus, we also discovered the larger venue downstairs (The Living Room), which has now officially been added to my NYC concert radar. The night before, one of our favorite performers was there, Chris Thile. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of it until the day after.

So, if you like the music you hear on their MySpace page (linked at the top of this post), then be bold, and send them a check to help them complete the new CD. You’ll end up having at least nine additional songs to enjoy from this very talented duo! 🙂