The Meatball Shop

Matt Cusson at Rockwood Music Hall

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Matt Cusson played his first ever show at Rockwood Music Hall last night. I’m sure it won’t be his last.

We hadn’t heard of him before, though after reading about him, I’m surprised at that. Thankfully, we have friends with excellent taste in music (in fact, we met them over a shared table at Joe’s Pub, a few years ago). They reached out and asked whether we wanted to join them for Matt’s show. Without knowing anything about him, our answer was yes. Smile

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I encourage you to read about him as well, as my description from a single set won’t do him justice. What I saw last night was a young man with a number of incredible talents:

  • amazing keyboards player (electronic last night, but I think he avoided the grand just to be front-and-center on the stage, I didn’t notice any particular effects)
  • wonderful voice (including the kind of control that is required in a number of the styles that Matt sings, R&B/Soul/Jazz)
  • excellent songwriter (even though Matt made a name for himself in other bands and with cover tours, he will clearly eventually leave his mark with his own music)
  • fantastic stage presence (even if the above weren’t true, he could bluff his way through a set and people would walk out smiling, having enjoyed his quick wit, natural style and warmth)

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In addition to playing some of his own tunes (including one or two brand new ones), he played a couple of older ones (including Comfortable, a John Mayer cover which Matt was well-known for). He also played a short medley of Michael Jackson songs. From what I understand, his range is much broader than he had time to display last night.

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Matt was joined by two musicians:

Rich Zurkowski on electric bass (I couldn’t find a good individual link to him). Rich was outstanding on the bass. He was often the only melodic accompaniment (when Matt was playing chords), given that there wasn’t a guitar as well. His fingers were flying up and down the frets the entire set, always sounding in perfect unison/harmony with Matt’s voice and keyboard play.

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On one number late in the set, Matt highlighted the band, including giving Rich a really long lead. It was mind-bogglingly good. I’m already looking forward to catching Rich again, any time, anywhere.

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Adam Hanson on drums. Adam did a nice job on the drums throughout. On the same song that Rich was highlighted, so was Adam. Matt prompted him to continue his introductory solo a few times, then turned it over to him later in the song again for a longer solo. While I enjoyed his play, he wasn’t quite as loose or creative as Jazz drumming can/should be.

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Matt introduced his fiancée to the audience:

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Before the show, we had dinner with our friends at The Meatball Shop. So good, I’m still thinking out the BBQ Pork meatballs (the special last night). We would eat there more often if it wasn’t always so jammed (rightfully so).

MerryLloyd

Thanks for introducing us to Matt Cusson, and for being willing to meet/eat early enough to get seats at The Meatball Shop! Smile

Chris Ayer at a House Concert

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This was a weekend extravaganza hosting our godson (David) and his wife (Rebecca). In addition to seeing Wicked earlier in the day (covered in this post), we wanted to take them to see some live music in NYC. Our core group consisted of 10 people, which could present logistical problems with finding the right show to accommodate us and still allow for the socializing before/after the show that we desired.

It occurred to me that even though we are loath to put on a house concert in general (logistics, weather, etc.), since we could constrain the group to be reasonably small, we might try to pull off a little miracle this time around. I was hoping for a solo, guitar-wielding singer/songwriter, so that we could easily move it indoors if the weather turned nasty (we planned this a month ago).

We love a lot of singer/songwriters that are based in NYC. With no offense to any others, Chris Ayer was at the top of our list. He’s the first one we asked, and the last, since he said he was available. Smile

Let me (now) apologize to all of our friends, especially those who are also huge Chris Ayer fans, for not inviting you. Since this weekend was about our godson, and his sister (our goddaughter, Laura) lives in the same building as we do, we restricted the guest list to their friends only (and us, of course). There were 16 audience members.

Since the evening was about socializing as well (David and Rebecca live in Birmingham, so none of us gets to see them as often as we’d like), we invited people to come at 6pm, with music slated to begin a little after 8pm. The original invitation said “Sushi” for dinner, but we knew that a few people don’t eat Sushi. A couple of diligent husbands pointed out that their pregnant wives couldn’t eat Sushi either. One of those pregnant wives delivered the night before (and stood us up for the show, can you believe it?)!

Congratulations to Laura and Jason! Smile

The day before, Wes, Jacklyn and I walked to see Super 8 (I might be one of only three people in America to think the movie is entertaining, but really stupid). On our way over, it poured so hard that we (and roughly 50 other people) had to stop (even though we had umbrellas) under some construction scaffolding for nearly 10 minutes, to avoid the feeling of taking a full bath in our clothes.

When we arrived back at the apartment, I noticed a giant rainbow and Lois snagged these photos (the rainbow disappeared within a few minutes!). It turns out that the rainbow appeared nearly coincident with the birth of Laura and Jason’s daughter. How awesome is that?

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Don’t worry about us, we still had two remaining pregnant women in attendance, so I think our quota was still met. Winking smile

There was plenty of other food to eat, and general merriment took place from 6pm onward.

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We were thankful that Chris arrived early enough to taste some of the Sushi as well. I also cornered him and fired off a bunch of my imponderable questions about music, including asking him whether he buys lefty guitars, or plays upside-down, etc. Thanks for being a good sport Chris and answering all of my questions patiently. Smile

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Shortly after 8pm, we pushed one of the tables out of the way (yes, our deck is a veritable furniture store) to make a nice spot for Chris to play in.

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Chris had his traditional set list written out on his arm (and my traditional photos showing you his and our views):

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After Chris played a few numbers, he asked whether anyone had requests. Lois fired off a few (including some older ones). He agreed to play one of her current favorites (she has dozens), Snake Skin Heart. After playing a second request from her, my competitive juices were flowing and I weighed in with Hiding Places (a new one that we love) and Stranded (which was on his set list already).

When I introduced Chris (before the music started), I mentioned that I think of him as a modern-day James Taylor whereas Lois thinks of him as a modern-day Paul Simon. At one point, Chris asked if anyone wanted to hear any covers. Naturally, some Paul Simon songs were called out. He played The Boxer (beautifully!), then Kathy’s Song (wow!). Again, my competitive juices could not be controlled. I called out for any James Taylor song. He performed Fire and Rain (perfect choice!).

After the show, one of Laura’s friends (who I met for the first time last night) came up to me and said: “Chris’ James Taylor cover was spectacular, but I have to side with Lois in comparing him more to Paul Simon. I wonder whether we won’t soon all be calling him our modern-day Paul Simon!”. OK, uncle! Smile

When Chris returned to playing his own numbers, both Lois and I were about to ask for Say What You Mean (independently, we only found that out after the show when comparing notes). Before we could get it out, Chris started introducing it. It’s about his Grandfather, which we knew, but the story that inspired it was new to us and incredibly touching.

While introducing it, he mentioned that his grandfather was in the Navy at Pearl Harbor. The person sitting closest to Chris during the show was Laura’s husband, also named Chris. Our Chris was in the Navy for six years and it didn’t seem accidental to me that he ended up being serenaded to that closely on this song (and obviously the rest of the songs).

Lois had asked (at least three times) whether Chris was going to do Roy G. Biv. He answered yes every time. I guess she wanted to make sure he wouldn’t forget. Winking smile He didn’t. He closed with an absolutely fantastic rendition of it. He introduced it, and nearly every song last night with some background or context about the song (I love that part of live shows!). Even though we’ve seen Chris many times, most of the backgrounds we heard last night were new to us, and I enjoyed every single one.

After the show we opened it up to questions of Chris and there were some really good ones. A few examples: co-writing vs writing alone, how long it takes to write a typical song, which comes first, melody or lyrics, etc.

Most of the people (including Chris) hung around to chat afterward, eating some dessert and the most incredible fresh fruit you can imagine (I’m still in a bit of a fruit coma over how good it was). We did allow the pregnant ladies to head out and get off their feet. We’re nice like that (sometimes). Winking smile

I’d be lying to you if I said I could adequately describe how incredible the entire evening was, music, conversation, food, fellowship.

I’ll finish by throwing in bonus coverage from today. Winking smile

If you know David, you know that his entire life revolves around Meatballs (ha, those of you who don’t know him think I’m exaggerating for effect). Winking smile How could we have him up to NYC and not take him to The Meatball Shop? We couldn’t and we didn’t! The core 10 of us headed down there shortly after it opened at noon today. We took over the tiny corner at the end of the bar (with most of us standing) and had an absolutely amazing lunch, including the obligatory ice-cream cookie sandwiches for dessert.

The kids went on for a very long walk, heading from the Lower East Side to the new Highline Park. Us old folk returned to the apartment, which is how I found the time to finish today’s posts. Smile

Jesse Terry and Gavin Slate at Rockwood Music Hall

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Yesterday promised to be a perfect late afternoon / early evening. It didn’t disappoint!

Jesse Terry is an amazing singer/songwriter (many easy ways for you to verify that claim for yourself, on YouTube, his own site, MySpace, etc.). We’ve seen him perform at a house concert, then at The Bitter End. We’ve been waiting patiently to catch him again, given his touring all over the US.

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Jesse was listed at 7pm. Whenever we go to Rockwood, we check out the act before to see if we’d enjoy them, mostly to raise our chances of getting a seat. Listed before Jesse at 6pm (first set of the night) was Gavin Slate. A single song on his MySpace page was all I needed to hear to be sure we’d enjoy his set.

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It turns out that Gavin came down from Toronto just for this show. He’s good friends with Jesse and rather than have two separate sets, they combined the two and played together. I knew that in advance because I follow Jesse on Twitter (and our mutual friend also told me), but some of Jesse’s supporters didn’t walk into Rockwood until 6:40, thinking he wouldn’t be on until 7pm.

Jesse and Gavin alternated songs throughout a 105-minute set. That was great because there was obviously no break between the 6 and 7pm slots, so we got at least 7.5 minutes extra (two songs worth) from each of them!

We love the in-the-round format in general. Even when it’s only two people, there’s a freshness from having each rest their voice and fingers between songs. The banter is typically a little faster paced because the performers feed off each other. The only thing missing is that while Jesse and Gavin are good friends and have tremendous love/respect for each other’s music, they don’t tour together (this was their first-ever formal show) so they don’t sing harmony on the other’s numbers.

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I can rave about Jesse all day long, but let me summarize by saying three things:

  • He writes beautiful songs
  • He has an extraordinary voice
  • He plays the guitar beautifully (I love his finger-picking in particular!)

All three were in play last night. Jesse debuted (at least from our perspective) a number of new songs, including one he just finished this week! They were all fantastic. I mentioned to his wife (they were married in December) that she is an obvious inspiration to him, because his songwriting continues to be on fire.

Jesse will be back at Rockwood on May 6th, for a 2-hour shared set with another of our favorites, Alex Wong and Michael Logen. They’ll be on from 7-9pm. Not to make the same mistake (listing-wise), I heard Jesse mention that Keegan DeWitt is part of their set too. He’s listed separately at 9pm. So, this is more likely a 4-person shared set from 7-10pm. Should be epic!

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Gavin was a complete mystery to us, other than liking what we heard on MySpace. Like  I said above, we were not disappointed. Gavin has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well and writes very interesting songs. He has a relaxed style on stage and told a few good stories (one in particular had us in stitches and I had to go up to him after the show to chat about it!).

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We bought his EP after the show and listened to it this morning. Wonderful! When I loaded it up, the Gracenote database had it classified as Pop. That surprised me, since Gavin was playing solo with an acoustic guitar last night and I would have described it as closer to folk. But, the production on the EP is terrific with a full band and I have no trouble accepting these songs as Pop. Very well done.

We heard all four of the songs last night. Each was completely recognizable on the EP, yet very different. More than the instrumentation (which was dramatic enough), the harmony on the EP struck both of us immediately. Gavin can certainly tour solo and hold our attention completely. It’s nice to know he could show up with a full band and make good use of them as well.

We weren’t scheduled to be in the city this Friday, but Jesse announced that Carley Tanchon has her Record Release show at Rockwood at 7:30pm at Rockwood 2 that night (April 1st). We were able to change our plans and we’ll definitely be there. Hope to see you all there as well! Smile

Having just discovered The Meatball Shop two days earlier (well, not actually discovered, but rather finally experienced), it was hard not to work that into our plans again. Since the show was early, we decided to have an even earlier dinner there. Five of us took two cabs down there. Ours arrived a bit later than theirs. We walked in at 4:30pm. The place was crowded and our three friends were seated at the bar. We could have sat at the bar as well, but not near them.

In a bold (and highly unusual) move, Lois decided to try and force Spring to appear on the spot. She made the executive decision that we would eat outdoors! It was definitely brisk, but surprisingly not the least bit uncomfortable. We had another amazing meal (I branched out and had the same exact dish, but this time with pork meatballs instead of beef).

Marjory Lee at Arlene’s Grocery

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We’ve seen Marjory Lee perform once before, in a house concert. Feel free to read the entire post, but I’ll pull out the two most relevant paragraphs here, because they will provide the foundation for my comments on last night’s show:

Marjory Lee sang and played acoustic guitar (as above, 100% acoustic, with Marjory even tuning by hand, shudder ;-) ). Our friend warned us about Marjory’s voice and she was correct. It’s gorgeous! Power when she wants/needs it, subtlety when that’s called for, range and perhaps most interesting, an ability to change styles and gears effortlessly.

Marjory was equally at home singing softly in the upper registers as she was belting out a soulful rendition of The Dock of the Bay, adding a gritty gravelly voice, sung in the lower registers.

Marjory Lee played with a full band at Arlene’s Grocery, so I knew it would be different than the house concert. I had also seen a couple of YouTube videos of a previous appearance at Arlene’s that we couldn’t attend. So, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was.

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Last night’s show was pretty much straight up Rock (even the two Country songs were of the more modern Country Rock style). I don’t get enough of that live, so it was quite welcome.

I already mentioned above how gorgeous Marjory’s voice is. In the second paragraph, I got a hint of the belting out part. But, nothing brings out a good belter’s skills more than Rock (perhaps Soul) and Marjory was simply incredible. It didn’t hurt that the sound engineer last night had everything leveled perfectly (that wasn’t the case the only other time we’ve been to Arlene’s).

Marjory accompanied herself on acoustic guitar. During some intros and bridges, that was the only instrument being played, so we got a nice taste of her skills.

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Backing Marjory up was a very tight band. Standing left-to-right on the stage:

Matt Mirando on lead electric guitar (no good individual link). Matt did a terrific job on the guitar. Solid on every number.

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Mike Knobloch on drums. Mike did a wonderful job on the drums throughout the set. On the last number, he took a semi-solo, with the guitar and bass punctuating each measure. I liked it a lot because it kept the solo more tied to the song rather than some of the meandering drum solos that show off skills, but are disconnected from their origin.

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On one number, he was really fast with both sticks on the Hi-hat cymbal. Whenever he’d strike a drum, he was back to the fast hi-hat without missing a beat. It was impressive and my arms hurt just watching him (it was a long song). Smile

Matt DePaolo on electric bass (also no good individual link). Matt was very solid throughout the set.

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We planned the evening with our friends who hosted that original house concert (and introduced us to Marjory that night). Two more of their friends joined us at Arlene’s. All six of us enjoyed the set thoroughly and look forward to catching Marjory (with or without band) in the near future.

Before the show the four of us had dinner together. We met at Arlene’s Grocery in order to find a spot to eat nearby. As we walked by The Meatball Shop (their site seems to come and go the few times I visited it this morning) I mentioned that we’d never eaten there, but that all the cool kids eat there all the time and rave about it.

I kept walking toward Allen St. My friend doubled back, ducked in and asked if they could accommodate four. They got a very nice couple to slide down one seat which opened up four spots in the long table in the center (I think it holds 18 people).

I was blown away by the meal (and I am sure the others were too). I had four beef meatballs served over spaghetti with a spicy meat sauce. I had a side of the day’s vegetables (cooked carrots with some finely chopped goodies which included beets). Simply amazing. Lois had the vegetable meatballs with a classic tomato sauce (and everything else I had). She just finished her left-overs a minute ago and was raving about them as much as she did last night’s meal.

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So, I checked, and unfortunately, eating at The Meatball Shop did not turn me into one of the cool kids, but it did at least prove to me that the cool kids indeed know a thing or two about good food. Smile