The Paper Raincoat

Alex Liang Wong at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Alex Wong is someone I’ve written about so many times. Starting with this post, I’m going to do my best to never write about him again. The reason? Too many darned Alex Wong’s running around getting famous on the Internet. In order to stake out a defined spot, our Alex has chosen to revive his long-dormant middle name.

Alex Liang Wong will now be the target of my admiration (and to save myself a bunch of typing, he’ll also be known as ALW). Feel free to beat me up in the comments if in the future I slip and call him by his old name.

There have been other (in)famous Alex Wong’s for a while. So, why change the name now, specifically? Because ALW is getting close to releasing his first-ever solo album, on February 14th, 2012. Having your name collide with others is a friction point and ALW wants people to be able to find his music more easily.

Amen to that. This new album will be amazing in every sense of the word. That brings me to last night’s show.

ALW has been playing a number of the songs from the upcoming CD for a while now. Some of them are deep earworms for me and have been since the first listen. They have morphed from purely solo efforts (when only ALW knew them), to duets, to slightly fuller band versions, over the past six months.

Last night was the culmination of that progression. ALW has already recorded the CD (mixed and mastered as well), so he knows exactly what it will sound like to the world. He’s finally ready to get closer to reproducing that sound live (which is a big trick, because aside from being a great songwriter, ALW is one of the best producers around, so his CD is not going to be a humble singer/songwriter sitting alone at a mic with his guitar).

Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 was packed (from the set before as well). ALW played mostly new songs, but he threw in a big surprise as well. He played the grand piano on most numbers, and some acoustic guitar, of course singing the lead on every song.

AlexLiangWongPiano

He had a number of special guests and a core band of three fantastic musicians. He also performed one song solo on the acoustic guitar, Patiently, which is a great song. There’s a video of him doing a solo version on the site linked to his (new) name above. The CD version will have a much bigger sound with a full band.

AlexLiangWongGuitar

Since the core band played on almost every song, let me mention them first, and then cover the guests in the order that they appeared.

Ward Williams on cello and electric guitar. Ward was outstanding on both, but I was particularly impressed with his play on the guitar. ALW has created a lot of unusual sounds on the new album, and much of effort to reproduce those live fell to Ward. Very impressive!

WardWilliamsCello

Ward also sang a lot more harmony with ALW than he has previously. He really nailed it every single time. I’ve always been a fan of Ward’s, including his performance in the set before, but this might have been the best all-around performance of his that I’ve attended.

WardWilliamsGuitar

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Elliot is always great, with last night being no exception. That said, as I think I’ve mentioned before, drumming for ALW on a song that ALW wrote has to be a challenge. ALW is first and foremost a percussionist himself, so he doesn’t tend to make vanilla drum tracks.

ElliotJacobson

Of course Elliot is up to the task (there’s no way that ALW would consistently pick him to play his shows otherwise), but I’m still impressed to see it, each and every time. For a specific example, the major beat in Never Look Back is in opposition to the basic melody and in my head, feels like it would be really easy to lose focus as a drummer. Not only did Elliot nail it, he took the subtlest of cues from ALW when the song started as to tempo and volume, adjusted instantly, and then drummed to perfection for the remainder of the song.

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony is one of my favorites, but clearly he is one of ALW’s too, since he plays so many of his shows. Good choice. Tony was excellent last night. When I ran into him on the sidewalk as we left, I mentioned that the bass was the critical part in reproducing the really big sound in the bridge of Never Look back. So, Tony and Elliot were really key in that number.

TonyMaceli

Alex Berger (who headlined the set before, covered here) joined to sing The Fighter, a song they co-wrote (and it will appear on each of their upcoming albums, I’m betting it will sound quite different on each).

AlexBerger

ALW also called up Alisa James to sing harmony with them (I couldn’t find a good link to her).

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Before the show started, ALW tried to convince Rachel Platten to join him on a number they co-wrote, Make It Home (that link takes you to a page where you can listen for free, but please buy it, as 100% of the proceeds go to CityHarvest.org!). I saw Rachel shake her head no, but I couldn’t hear her reason.

RachelPlatten

When Alex got up to that number, he joked (or perhaps he was serious!) that Rachel couldn’t play it because she was contractually prohibited by her record label from appearing at the show. I think he was kidding. I’m guessing that they didn’t rehearse it and Rachel wasn’t prepared to wing it. But, even if it was true, ALW performed it beautifully by himself, so we got to enjoy it anyway.

ambeR Rubarth was a very special guest. She and ALW had a group called The Paper Raincoat which is actually solely responsible for our immersion in the indie music scene in NYC (we saw them at the Canal Room on April 16th, 2009!). ambeR took to the piano and ALW to the acoustic guitar and they performed one of their Paper Raincoat songs, The Same Old Things. Yay! Smile

ambeRRubarth

David Fallo joined on that number and sat in on another, playing the viola as well as he always does.

DavidFallo

To close the show, ALW picked one of my favorite songs (I’m obsessed actually, I could listen to it 24×7): Are You Listening. Typically, ALW has at most one other person singing the chorus (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) with him on stage. That never matters, as the entire audience sings it with him (no one sings it louder than I do).

Last night he shook it up a bit and had a ton of the best singers around belting out the chorus with him on stage. The wall of sound coming from the stage was heavenly and made it a bit more difficult to hear the audience singing along, but I’m not complaining!

Left-to-right, singing with Alex:

Ari Hest, Martin Rivas, Ian Holljes, Elizabeth Hopkins and Eric Holljes. The last three names listed are 3/4’s of the singers in the amazing band Delta Rae. ALW is producing their new CD as I type (literally) and it will be awesome, I have no doubt!

AriHestMartinRivas

IanHolljesElizabethHopkinsEricHolljes

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Here’s the (planned) set list. As you already know (e.g., Rachel Platten did not play), this was not followed like a blueprint, but rather like a guide. Don’t Be Afraid also didn’t make the actual cut:

SetList

Like I noted in the previous post, we ran into a lot of people between the two sets. Here are some photos that Lois snapped as we were heading out the door:

EricHolljesIanHolljesHadarGrantEmerson

MikeMcKeeHadarCarleyTanchonHadar

Paper Raincoat and Gregory Alan Isakov at Highline Ballroom

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Looking for a night of good music in NYC? Every night of the week will present difficult choices. Occasionally, those decisions achieve Solomonic proportions. Last night was one of those nights. I had Carley Tanchon and Joey Ryan in our calendar for quite a while. Carley was appearing at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 at 7pm and Joey was at Rockwood 2 at 9pm.

Everything changed when a month ago, The Paper Raincoat (TPR) announced that they were appearing at Highline Ballroom on the same night. It’s not (necessarily) the case that we would always choose to see TPR over Joey. It’s that opportunities to see TPR live are rarer nowadays than they used to be.

We last saw TPR on September 7th, 2010. We have seen Joey live three times since then.

TPR was sandwiched between two other acts. I’ll cover them first since we showed up expressly to see them.

TPR is comprised of two people, Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth. They (nearly) always have a drummer, but which one will show up to any particular show has been a surprise lately (last night included). They often have special guests join them, last night was no exception.

AlexWongKeyboardsGlockenspielambeRRubarth

The 9-song set was well chosen, kicking off with perhaps my favorite TPR song, Brooklyn Blurs.

The second song was Sympathetic Vibrations with its signature audience-participatory clapping. Our table (well, four of the six of us) clapped on cue (perfectly if I may say so myself). But, it seemed to us that very few people in the extremely crowded audience were clapping with us.

We must have been correct, because a little bit later in the song, ambeR looked at Alex and said that it might be a good idea to teach the audience the clap (it’s sophisticated) Winking smile. After the lesson, more people joined us.

The next song, Motion Sickness has become a sing-along in the last year (mostly at solo Alex Wong shows). Half the audience sings the na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na part and the other half sings the ah, ah, ah ah ah part. Alex always seems to get the entire audience doing their part. Last night, the singing was anemic (except for our table, again).

I can’t tell whether the majority of the audience was unfamiliar with TPR or they were shy.

After playing The Same Old Things, Rough Cut, Don’t Be Afraid and Right Angles, they played another favorite (OK, I admit that the entire set was comprised of favorites), It All Depends. First, a photo of Alex and ambeR playing the keyboards together on Right Angles:

AlexWongAmberRubarthRightAngles

As they started It All Depends, Alex tossed (yes, actually threw) a tambourine at Lois. I was shocked and impressed when she caught it without flinching.

Tambourine

The rest of us did our clapping part until the finale, where Alex (and shortly after) ambeR both joined the drummer with all three of them drumming on the same drum set at the same time. I never tire of it and I never will! Of course, without Lois’ tambourine play, the entire song would just be boring. Winking smile

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They closed the set with their signature a cappella Rewind, wonderfully!

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The drummer for last night was Sarab Singh who is the regular drummer for a hot local group, Harper Blynn (they have a new site coming too). We’ve seen Sarab once before, supporting ambeR’s solo show at Highline as well. He’s very good, but it took a few songs for him to settle into a good rhythm with TPR. The kick drum was mic’ed too loud and made my hair flutter every time he kicked it.

SarabSingh

Alex is an amazing producer. TPR’s self-titled CD (absolutely incredible) is but one of his masterpieces. One of Alex’s specialties is crafting string arrangements that blend perfectly with Pop music. Last night we were treated to two top musicians playing some of those arrangements live.

Melissa Tong on violin. Melissa was wonderful (as always) throughout the set, but in particular, the opening for Right Angles is all violin.

MelissaTong

David Fallo on viola. David too was wonderful (as always) throughout. He too was highlighted a number of times, most notably on Don’t Be Afraid where David took the lead.

DavidFallo

Another surprise occurred during Rough Cut. There is a local dance troupe called Insight Dance Company. Last year they set a ballet to the music of Ian Axel. They are currently working on a number of pieces by TPR and will be putting on a show in the Spring (I believe). ambeR called them up (six of them, I believe) to dance while TPR performed Rough Cut. It was interesting, but the stage was definitely an obstacle course for the dancers. It will be more interesting to see them in their own element.

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After a 20-minute break, the headliner (co-billed) took the stage.

Gregory Alan Isakov sings, plays the guitar and the harmonica. I’ve heard of him but knew nothing about his music. He headlined a show at Highline where Rosi Golan opened for him. We had hoped to make that show but couldn’t. I’m told he played solo that night. Last night he was joined by three musicians.

GregoryAlanIsakovGuitar

I was impressed by Gregory’s voice, very rich and clear. That said, he had a setup I’ve never seen before, two microphones inches apart. One was normal and the other had a couple of effects attached to it (including heavy reverb, but more importantly, a vocal distortion). While it was technically interesting to see him switch (even in the middle of a song) from one mic (and sound) to another, I strongly preferred the normal mic to the more synthesized voice. It’s a gimmick (to me) and I can do without it.

GregoryAlanIsakovTwoMicrophones

It’s often tough for me to hang on to lyrics when seeing someone new the first time. Aside from the fact that there is so much else going on (when there are other musicians), big spaces aren’t conducive for really close listening. Still, on occasion I heard some very interesting phrases making me feel that Gregory is a poet first and foremost, but it will require more listening for me to be sure.

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

Philip Parker on cello and vocals. Phil did a really nice job on the cello. He actually played it as much as an upright bass (plucking it) as he did as a cello (with a bow). While I could see him move his lips on many songs, I would be lying if I said I could hear a single sound coming from his mic. Before I got to say that to Lois, she told me that she thought he did a nice job singing with Gregory, so it might have just been me who couldn’t pick out his voice.

PhilParkerCelloBow

Jeb Bows on violin. I was very impressed with Jeb’s play and felt that he was the most critical part of enhancing Gregory’s sound. Gregory came out for a two-song encore, the first of which was just Gregory and Jeb, validating my feeling that Jeb was more central to Gregory’s sound. On a number of songs Jeb plucked the violin. We’ve seen that before (in fact Melissa did it during the TPR set). But, for the first time in my experience, much of Jeb’s plucking sounded a lot like a mandolin. Cool!

JebBows

James Han on electronic keyboards. James had two keyboards placed at a right angle. He swiveled to play one or the other. His play was quite understated, but also excellent. It fit the mood of Gregory’s music very well.

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Paul Dempsey opened the show at 7pm on the dot (always a pleasure when shows start when they’re supposed to). He has an easy charm, a good voice and plays the guitar well enough to accompany himself. His song intros (very short) amused us. Other than a few choice phrases though, I can’t say that the lyrics made an impression on me.

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He played for exactly half an hour.

Six of us had dinner before the show. The food and drinks at Highline are always a treat and our service last night was excellent as well. Another fun night out with friends, sharing some laughs, some food and a lot of music.

ambeR Rubarth and Ed Romanoff at a House Concert

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This was our second house concert on the upper west side of NYC. It’s a series called Music On 4 run by a wonderful couple who create a perfect atmosphere to enjoy live music.

amber Rubarth is no stranger to us or to readers of this blog. I’ve written about her and The Paper Raincoat (her project with the amazing Alex Wong) dozens of times. We’ve seen ambeR perform in a wide-variety of venues. Highline Ballroom (which seats 400+), down to NAU (a clothing store where she set up in the back). I’ve written about each one if you have the inclination to read for a few days.

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We’ve seen ambeR play solo, with a trio and with a large band (strings, oboes, the works!). She excels and adapts in all of those situations. There was no way ambeR could surprise me last night. Musically, that was true. Emotionally, it wasn’t. There was an intimacy (roughly 60 people attended, which is a sell-out at Music On 4) that was new.

ambeR introduced a few songs with backgrounds that I hadn’t heard before, even though I know the songs well. She chose a perfect set list for the setting, complemented by three requests from the audience that were all good choices. The entire evening (including the opener) was un-mic’ed (both vocals and acoustic guitars). She finger-picked beautifully and her voice was the perfect volume for the room.

What makes ambeR so special? She’s an incredible songwriter. Don’t take my word for it. She just won the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest for 2010! (If you’re reading this a year from now, the link might no longer be highlighting ambeR.) Still not convinced? She co-wrote Washing Day with Adam Levy. It too won an award:

Amber Rubarth’s song Washing Day (co-written with Adam Levy) won 1st Place in the 2006 International Songwriting Competition in the ‘Lyrics only’ category, judged by Tom Waits, Brian Wilson and Robert Smith

ambeR writes about universal experiences in a way that captures the deepest feelings succinctly and honestly. Along the way, there is enough disarming humor (both outright funny and bittersweet introspection) to keep the mood just right. Her imagery is vivid and insightful.

She’s off for a European tour today. I miss her already! Smile

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Ed Romanoff opened for ambeR. He’s joining her on the European tour as well. We’ve seen Ed a few times before and enjoyed his sets. Last night was no exception, but I don’t feel that he’s as suited to an un-mic’ed house concert as ambeR is. For a big guy, Ed tends to sing reasonably softly. When he’s mic’ed correctly, that’s fine. When he isn’t, at times his guitar overwhelms his voice.

EdRomanoff

Even so, he was a good choice to open for ambeR. He is a very good story-teller (this was particularly true when we last saw him at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2) so he had the audience totally warmed up by the time his set was done.

Ed and ambeR closed the show with a duet, performing Hold On by Tom Waits.

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As with many shows, not everything always goes according to plan. Ed and ambeR had a bit of trouble getting there, arriving roughly 20 minutes after they were supposed to appear. Unlike a commercial venue, house concerts can deal with this situation more creatively.

One member of the audience came up to the stage area (not raised) and led everyone in singing the first verse of Amazing Grace! Then another member came up and sang a song he wrote. A third member stood up and sang another song (not written by her) right from her seat. All were a cappella since there were no instruments in the apartment. Just as the third song was finished, ambeR and Ed walked in. A very warm experience shared by and between audience members only.

Another night of great music shared with a wonderful group of people!

The Paper Raincoat at Mercury Lounge

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Last night was our second time at Mercury Lounge. We went to see the same group that brought us there the first time, The Paper Raincoat.

No matter how many times we see the same groups, each show has it’s own character, making it worth coming out for reasons other than simply supporting great talent (though that alone is a worthy enough reason!).

The last few times that we saw The Paper Raincoat (TPR), they had a violin, viola and bass accompanying them. Last night, they were back to the original configuration that we originally saw them in (way back in April 2009), Alex Wong, ambeR Rubarth and a drummer (last night it was Kevin Rice, but that first time was Adam Christgau).

AlexWongGuitar ambeRRubarth AlexWongGlockenspiel

We love the strings (Melissa Tong and David Fallo) and Tony Maceli on the bass. I look forward to a TPR show with them all as soon as possible, but still, there was a tingle to get back to the core sound that we originally fell in love with.

TPR was one of four bands on the bill (third in the lineup), so their set was slightly shorter than usual (around 40 minutes). They had an excellent set selection so we didn’t feel let down by the length.

SetList

At least 1/2 of the very large audience was there to see the headliner, The Do, so they were experiencing TPR for the first time. From our center vantage point, they liked TPR plenty.

Kevin Rice was extraordinary (not that he’s ever less than amazing). On Sympathetic Vibrations, Alex had a particularly long introduction (which was cool in itself) and Kevin was wailing a rock-steady beat throughout. My arms hurt just watching him, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of him either.

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That was hardly the extent of his incredible drumming. In addition, they played It All Depends, where they often end it with Alex, Kevin and ambeR all drumming at the same time (heavenly). Last night, Alex spotted Danny Molad in the audience. He’s the drummer for Elizabeth and the Catapult. Alex coaxed Danny onto the stage, so It All Depends ended with four people sharing one drum set. Hazzah!

AlexWongDannyMolad FourPeopleDrumming

Alex and ambeR also played Right Angles. We’ve seen them play it before, with both on a grand piano at the same time, but it was tucked away in the corner of Rockwood, so you only see them sitting together. Last night they played it on the electric keyboard, with their hands flying up and down the keys simultaneously, right in front of us. Awesome!

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So, how did I know that 1/2 the audience was new to TPR? They closed with their signature a cappella Rewind. When they start the awesome cross-hand-clapping, 1/2 the audience laughed (gleefully). That happens to everyone the first time they see TPR do it. After that, you anxiously look forward it, but don’t laugh out loud. 🙂

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We only stayed for 1.5 songs of The Do. Not my taste (plus it was late for us). But, to give them their proper due, as crowded as it was for TPR, I can’t believe how many more people jammed into Mercury Lounge for The Do. They have a huge, loyal and adoring set of fans. I’m sure those people thought we were crazy for leaving, but they had to be happy to have the extra space. 😉

Now that I’ve been to Mercury Lounge twice, I can definitively say I’m not a fan (I’ll go again without hesitation, but I won’t look forward to the venue part of the evening). Standing is only one negative for us. The bigger one is the sound system and engineering there (only two data points, I know) is way below the quality we’re used to at over a dozen other venues. C’est la vie…

Vienna Teng, Alex Wong and Joey Ryan at Highline Ballroom

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Last night was very special on many levels. At the top of the list was seeing Vienna Teng perform in NYC (at the Highline Ballroom) for the last time in a while (she’s off to grad school later this month!).

Even though Vienna tours the US and Europe regularly, we have come to rely on the fact that NYC was her (temporary) adopted home and we had so many opportunities to see her here over the last year. (We also saw her perform in Atlanta, Birmingham and Norfolk.)

We’re thankful that we made the time to do it, without taking for granted that we could see her whenever we wanted. Her shows will be few and far between over the next three years, but they will happen, and anyone who gets the chance to catch one better do it!

Vienna’s voice and piano playing are magical and last night was no exception. She can soothe the savage beast or impassion the near lifeless.

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In addition to a few typical songs that Vienna invites the crowd to join in on (more on that later), she added Antebellum to the list, inviting us to join her or Alex in their respective parts. I could swear that the majority of the crowd selected Alex’s part (perhaps because it’s easier, or perhaps because Alex admonished us to “Choose Wisely”). 🙂

While Vienna often introduces songs, last night felt different. She knew she wouldn’t have many more opportunities to connect with the very large crowd so she introduced nearly every song and shared stories with great warmth. (Highline seats roughly 450 people, and there were very few empty seats. It was the first show we’ve been at where people were sitting in the Highline balcony as well!)

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One story that she shared was going to a Karaoke night with a group of non-musician friends. She and her friend sang A Whole New World from Aladdin. She described the inevitable Karaoke Key Nightmare, where the music is simultaneously too high and too low for your vocal range.

Many songs later (I think it was during 1BR / 1BA, but don’t quote me), 2/3’s of the way through the song, she and Alex broke into a full-on rendition of A Whole New World! Their harmony was fantastic and the entire bit was both wonderful and funny at the same time. Of course, after the song, Alex complained that Vienna chose his Karaoke key. Actually, to quote him more accurately, he said she chose his coming into puberty range. 🙂

Alex Wong (the Alex in the above paragraph) joined her as he has for nearly all of the performances we’ve been to. In addition to being Vienna’s touring partner, co-writer on a few of her songs and producer of her amazing CD Inland Territory, Alex is also 1/2 of The Paper Raincoat.

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On the set list, which I reproduce below for Vienna’s many fans, there is an entry labeled (Alex). Vienna lamented that she would really miss seeing The Paper Raincoat and asked Alex to pick one of their songs to play. People shouted out many songs. Probably the one most loudly requested was In the Creases. Technically, not a Paper Raincoat song, but co-written by Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth (who are The Paper Raincoat), so it qualifies.

Alex chose to do Don’t Be Afraid. He too introduced the song with a short, but meaningful anecdote. Vienna sang perfect harmony with Alex.

Toward the end of the show Vienna said that she wanted to deviate from the set list and get Alex to play another song. Once again, lots of requests from the audience. Alex chose a song of his that he performed with his original group, The Animators, Help is on the Way. We’ll all need it for the withdrawal we’ll be feeling from Vienna’s absence. 🙁

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Ward Williams joined them for the entire show (as he does on most of their tours). Ward sang beautifully with Vienna on a few numbers and played cello or electric guitar on all the numbers. As I’ve said before, Ward is a top-notch musician who always enhances any show he’s a part of!

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Update: Lois asked me to say how funny (and quick) Ward is, so here goes. For one song, Vienna asked us to take our keys out. She directed us when to jingle our keys and when to stop (like wind chimes). Alex used his Harry Potter Wand (aka: Waterphone bow) to direct people to make whooshing sounds like the wind itself.

Vienna joked that Ward was left out of the directing. Without missing a beat, he offered that when he put his right arm over his head (in a ballet-like pose), the audience should let out a blood-curdling scream! After testing us once before the song, he sprung the actual arm movement late in the song, and the audience did indeed scream on cue (good paying attention folks!). Vienna definitely got a kick out of it, as did the rest of us. 🙂

I’ve never seen a weak Vienna performance, so raving about last night shouldn’t be taken to imply that other shows weren’t incredible (they all have been!). That said, perhaps it was the poignancy of knowing that it would be a while, making me listen even more acutely, Vienna was in perfect voice last night. The clarity and power were mesmerizing.

As promised, here is the set list:

SetList

As you can see, she ended the set (a long and satisfying one) with Grandmother song. She asked the entire audience to stand for it and we turned the song into a 400+ person party! When they left the stage, we all remained standing until she came back out, this time solo.

Vienna dedicated the song, 1000 Oceans by Tori Amos, to us. We were both choked up. I am still speechless this many hours later, but thankfully, I can still type! 😉

All I can say in return/response is that the amount of joy and personal/spiritual growth that Vienna and the too-many-to-mention other Indie artists that we have come to know and love have given us, fuels us daily! Thank you Vienna, and all of you (you know who you are!).

After 1000 Oceans, both Alex and Ward returned to the stage and they performed two more numbers. The last one was Soon Love Soon, sung by the entire audience in three-part harmony! Here is Vienna directing the right side of the audience:

ViennaTengDirectingAudienceWardWilliams

Including the encore, they were on stage for 100 minutes. As vivid as the memory is at the moment, I miss it already.

When we bought the tickets (many moons ago, when the show was first announced) there was no opening act listed. What a phenomenal surprise to found out it was another of our favorites.

Joey Ryan performed solo, singing and playing acoustic guitar. In addition to always nailing his sets (with and without accompaniment) he was even funnier (and more self-deprecating) than he usually is (and he’s always funny!). He had everyone in the crowd laughing and chuckling, within seconds of stepping on the stage.

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Personally, I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to come out to an un-warmed-up crowd who is eating, drinking and conversing loudly. To do that solo, acoustically and not be the headliner, even more so.

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Yet, like I noted above, within seconds, Joey had the place whisper quiet, with everyone hanging on his every word. He owned not only the stage, but the entire place. I’m humbled by that ability, and enjoy being a part of it each time I experience it.

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Lois asked me if I’d call out for Broken Headlights. I didn’t need to. Joey invited Vienna and Alex on stage to sing it with him. Gorgeous, both the song (always) and their arrangement and harmonies.

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The Highline Ballroom is a wonderful venue. Doors open two hours before show time and they have excellent food (and drinks). Because of that, we wanted to celebrate with friends and share the great music. We bought seven tickets and squeezed all of us in to a table for six.

We had an excellent meal, including way too many desserts (that Lois forced on us, and of course didn’t partake in). Here is a photo of a very small portion of the desserts we all shared:

PartialDessertDisplay

In what had to be the universe speaking to us (though I didn’t find this out until this morning!), I ordered a glass of Shiraz. Then someone else in our party ordered the same thing. The waitress asked if we wanted a bottle instead and I said yes. Then she said that they had a special on a different bottle of Shiraz, one that wasn’t available by the glass. I ordered that. It was really good!

This morning, when I looked at the bill, I saw the name of the wine:

Flying Piano

A totally fitting thing to be drinking during a Vienna Teng show, no doubt! 😉

We all hung around after the show to tell Vienna, Alex, Ward and Joey how amazing they were and what a special night it was. The same group (including Joey) will be performing tonight in Fairfield, CT, tomorrow at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and Saturday in Silver Spring, MD. Do yourself a favor and go to one of these shows, time is running out…

ViennaTengChadVaccarinoIanAxelWardWilliamsAlexWong JoeyRyanHadar

The Paper Raincoat at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Q: What word describes the following situation? You’re old and exhausted and one of your favorite bands schedules a show at 6pm!

A: Perfect! 🙂

That’s exactly what happened last night. The Paper Raincoat played a show at 6pm at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. The only worry in our minds (possibly in theirs too) was whether people would show up that early. No need to worry folks, the place was packed to the teeth with people spilling out the door. Of course, we got there very early and snagged the two seats at center stage.

I know that most of the people who read this blog know about The Paper Raincoat (TPR) already, but for the Google robot out there, it’s a duo comprised of ambeR Rubarth and Alex Wong, each tremendous talents in their own right, that prove (yet again) that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts!

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Alex joked a number of times that they were playing the Happy Hour show. As Ken Rockwood himself joked back: “Every hour is Happy Hour at Rockwood!”. 😉

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They played a nine-song set (not including the encore). If you’re a fan, you’ll know how good a selection it was. Either way, let me assure you that it was extremely well received by the audience.

SetList

To give you a sense of how unusual the scene was, ambeR lost her place in Sympathetic Vibrations for a second. She always nails that one (though I won’t be able to say always any longer) 😉 and she explained that seeing so many people jammed into Rockwood that early distracted her. I don’t doubt that!

When they started Sympathetic Vibrations, Alex turned to the crowd and said: “You know your part.” We did. We (everyone, not just Lois and me) clapped our part perfectly, loudly, in unison. ambeR recovered from her momentary lapse by joking that at least we knew our part. 😉

When Alex introduced January, he explained that it should be thought about from the perspective of an older drunk guy. To ensure that we really understood that, three members of the band (I’ll cover each individually shortly) switched places, ensuring that they were no longer superstars on their respective instruments. It was fresh and fun. ambeR played the drums. She’s tweeted that she’s practicing but I didn’t expect to see the result so soon.

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On Right Angles both Alex and ambeR played on the grand piano at the same time:

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On It All Depends, they ended with their signature drumming extravaganza. First, they warmed it up by getting the audience to clap in a fast and steady beat. Then Alex joined Kevin with the two of them drumming together, with the audience never missing a beat. Then ambeR joined them with all three drumming on the same drum set (well, to be honest, Alex had a snare a little off to Kevin’s left). It was as awesome as it always is, perhaps a drop more.

Both Alex and ambeR play a number of instruments. At times, Alex plays multiple ones simultaneously:

AlexWongMultiInstrumentalist

Closing the show (not the encore) with Rewind, ambeR, Alex and Kevin were awesome. The only thing that differentiates some previous TPR shows is that when Adam Christgau does Rewind, he also sings, making it three-part harmony at some points. Kevin doesn’t sing, but the three of them still make live magic every time they perform this song.

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ambeR and Alex returned to thunderous applause for an encore without the band. They played In the Creases, a song they co-wrote before TPR existed. We love the song. Lois felt it was the best rendition she had heard. I loved it, but I doubt I’ll ever experience it like I did at Joe’s Pub for ambeR’s CD release party, when Vienna Teng sang three-part harmony with them, and Katie Scheele played the oboe, and a full band supported them (including Vienna on the grand piano).

On to the wonderful band:

Kevin Rice on drums. Kevin was the original drummer for TPR, though for the first few shows that we saw them, Adam Christgau was their drummer. Kevin is awesome (as is Adam!) and many of the TPR songs allow great drummers to stretch a bit. The beat is such an integral part of the songs and Kevin never disappoints. For January, Kevin switched to the electric bass. He did a very nice job.

KevinRiceDrums KevinRiceBass

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony was great all night (as he always is). He’s a lot more understated than a number of the bassists we’ve seen recently, but that’s one of the things that makes him a great match for a lot of groups, his bottom is there for them, without Tony (or his riffs) becoming a distraction to their music. For January, Tony took ambeR’s place. He played the electric keyboards with his left hand, and the trumpet with his right! Bravo Tony!

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Melissa Tong on violin. Melissa always delights us and last night was no exception. Many groups add strings to their CD’s without ever using them live. TPR (and ambeR and Alex individually) often have strings on stage, creating the same huge, rich sound that they deliver in studio. While Melissa (and David, up next) were excellent throughout, they were really brought to the forefront in the opening of Right Angles, which is mostly strings for the first 45 seconds. Gorgeous!

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David Fallo on viola. David is wonderful on the viola. In addition to playing on all the numbers that Melissa played on, David also played on one that Melissa sat out. Everything that I said above about Melissa, in particular about Right Angles, applies equally to David!

DavidFallo

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I already mentioned that we grabbed the two seats front and center. Joining us at our table were three very interesting people that we hadn’t met before, but had shared a number of shows together. Getting to know them before the show started made the time fly (another advantage of getting there early) and we look forward to seeing them at many shows in the future!

Here’s hoping that when we get even older, and NYC kicks us out and forces us to move to Florida, that TPR will show up and play a 3pm show for us while we grab our early-bird dinner special. 😉

Alex Wong at Caffe Vivaldi

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After seeing Alex Wong perform a cameo appearance at ambeR Rubarth’s Rockwood Music Hall show, we ran over to Caffe Vivaldi to catch Alex performing his own show!

AlexWong

The last time we saw Alex he played mostly solo (Adam Levy joined him for a song or two). This time, Alex was supported by some of the best musicians in NYC, though he did perform at least one song solo.

That song was In the Creases [Update: I’ve been told by two people that I am wrong, that Ward Williams joined Alex on this song, so I’m sure I am incorrect. Apologies!], the same song he performed earlier with ambeR at Rockwood. Very cool contrast. There (as mentioned in this post) he sang while ambeR played the guitar. Here, he played and sang by himself, creating a completely different feel to the song.

Alex has a wide selection of songs to choose from, his own repertoire, songs he wrote as part of The Animators, songs he co-wrote with ambeR and The Paper Raincoat songs.

Joining Alex in various combinations were:

Melissa Tong on violin. Always a delight, as a person and as a musician.

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Ward Williams on cello. Ward’s performances are always top-notch, and last night was no exception. In fact, he accompanied Alex alone on one song and played lead on the cello replacing ambeR’s missing vocals from a Paper Raincoat song. Extremely well done.

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Kevin Rice on a snare drum (Caffe Vivaldi is too small for a full drum set, at least with last night’s setup). Kevin always does a great job, even though he was constrained last night.

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Martin Rivas sat in on one number, playing acoustic guitar and singing harmony. His guitar play was outstanding, as was his voice. It reminded me that I hadn’t gotten around to snagging his new EP, so I asked Lois to buy it from him after the show. Can’t wait to catch a full Martin set asap.

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Candace Chien played the grand piano accompanying Alex on his last number (Help is on the Way). Sorry, I can’t find a good individual link for Candace. Candace is a classical pianist and this was her first non-classical public performance. She nailed it and we hope to see and hear more of her in the future. Everyone at the Caffe sang along with Alex on the repeating chorus (just like we did when he closed the Haiti benefit with this number).

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Even though we stayed up way past our bedtime, it was a ton of fun to see all of these wonderful people/performers do such an intimate show.

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We’ve never been to Caffe Vivaldi before (it’s in the West Village) and it won’t be our last time. To make sure I’d want to come back, I forced myself to have a piece of Carrot Cake and a Latte. The things I do for the love of music… 😉

ambeR Rubarth and Adam Levy at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Another night, another show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, same old, same old. 🙂

This night featured a totally different type of music, but was similar in that we love this group of performers as did the rest of the crowd.

The co-billed show was ambeR Rubarth (we love her solo, with a band, and when she’s half of the duo The Paper Raincoat) and Adam Levy who is a wonderful guitarist and singer/songwriter.

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Adam had his band, the Mint Imperials backing him (I’ll cover them later), and they backed up ambeR on the majority of her numbers as well.

Adam, ambeR and the band came out together and opened with an Adam number. Then Adam introduced ambeR’s song Edge of My Seat with a crack that didn’t seem like a song intro until the last second.

After that, it was a bit more of ambeR’s set than Adam’s, with Adam supporting her (with his patented bluesy guitar riffs and harmony vocals).

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Then she invited Alex Wong up, her cohort in The Paper Raincoat. They played In the Creases (one of our favorites) just the two of them. ambeR offered Alex the guitar, but he deferred to her, so Alex just sang with ambeR supplying the music.

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Just as quickly as he was on the stage, Alex was off like a shot. He had his own show across town starting a bit later that he had to get to. I’ll write a separate post about that right after this one.

ambeR also performed solo and one number on the Grand Piano accompanied by the band. She closed her set with Novocaine, one of my personal favorites!

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The focus shifted to Adam’s songs. Adam had excellent energy and the crowd was definitely feeling it. He played quite a few numbers, including No Dancing, a ton-of-fun song.

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They wrapped it up with a song that they co-wrote (the first one they wrote together), Washing Day. It’s a wonderful song and doesn’t require any extras. But, what an extra they threw in to delight us last night.

They invited Ian Axel to join them (recall our experience from the night before in the same place!). Ian played a wonderful piano solo that was icing on a soulful cake. A great way to end an excellent show.

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Back to the band.

Tony Mason played drums. He’s a solid drummer and took a wonderful solo on No Dancing. We’ve seen him with Adam once before.

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Andy Hess played the electric bass. This was our first time seeing Andy as Adam had a fill-in bass player the last time we saw him. I was very impressed with Andy and I look forward to seeing him play again.

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Opening for ambeR and Adam was Ed Romanoff. We’ve seen Ed once before at the Haiti Benefit at City Winery, but haven’t had the pleasure of seeing him perform a solo set.

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He has an extremely mellow folk/blues style and we really liked his set a lot. He’s very warm on stage and we chuckled a bunch. He also told one very personal story as an intro to a song. He’s a good story-teller, but the story itself is even more incredible. Even though he told it publicly, and I feel I could repeat it, just go see him and hope he tells it himself.

Accompanying Ed was Oscar Albis Rodriguez on electric guitar and very light harmony. I have to start a separate paragraph to make sure you’re paying attention:

Wow!

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I was hugely impressed with Oscar. He gently danced in and around Ed’s acoustic guitar and singing, always complementing and enhancing, and never interfering or overwhelming. On the few occasions where Ed stepped back and invited Oscar to take the lead, he was incredibly tasty and interesting.

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Wow, just to make sure you didn’t miss it above. What makes this even more amazing to me (after the fact) is that I checked out some of Oscar’s own music, and it’s much harder rock, so he’s really versatile!

Adam Christgau (one of our favorite drummers) joined Ed and Oscar on stage for one number. He didn’t play the drums. He played a frisbee with a single brush stick. It’s one of Adam’s signature things. 🙂

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ambeR also joined in on the same number that Adam Christgau played on, sitting at the piano (without playing). She and Ed sang very nicely together.

We ran out immediately and grabbed a cab with another couple to head over to see Alex Wong’s show. Check out the next post to read about that one. 🙂

Alex Wong and Adam Levy at Rockwood

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Last night was a real treat for us. We got to see one of our favorite musicians perform his first solo show. We also caught the set before his, which was wonderful, and I’ll cover that as well.

Alex Wong is an incredible talent, something I repeat very often (well deserved repetition). We never had the pleasure of seeing him with his original group, The Animators, but we’ve seen him often as part of The Paper Raincoat (a group he formed with ambeR Rubarth) and when he tours with Vienna Teng (something he’s doing again starting tonight in Atlantic City).

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He has delighted us since the first time we saw him. It is my understanding that Alex isn’t looking to launch a solo career, but rather, as with many artists, he continually wants to stretch and grow. Playing solo affords him the opportunity to do that.

He played a mix of his own, The Paper Raincoat and The Animators songs. His selection was outstanding. For The Paper Raincoat (TPR) songs (Brooklyn Blurs, The Same Old Things, Don’t Be Afraid and Motion Sickness), hearing them in the pure mellowness of just Alex with the guitar was a nice change-of-pace. That said, I’m nowhere near getting enough of TPR’s sound.

Adam Levy (covered in more detail below) accompanied Alex on an electric guitar on two songs (possibly three). One was the first song Alex Wong wrote with Devon Copley (his partner in The Animators) A Girl Like You. The other was In the Creases, a song Alex wrote with ambeR Rubarth before they formed TPR (one of our favorite songs!).

Adam was a great addition on both songs, in particular on In the Creases, where his leads were fantastic. On Creases, he also sang harmony. He didn’t have a microphone in front of him, but since I was three feet away, I could hear how good a job he did. 🙂

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Alex didn’t come on until 11pm. Even though it was that late, in the middle of the week, there was a really nice-sized crowd at Rockwood Music Hall. When Alex finished his set, the applause wouldn’t die down. He had already unplugged his acoustic guitar from the amp, but it was obvious that people weren’t going to stop clapping until he played another song.

Alex looked up at the sound engineer, who nodded to him that he could play another one. He closed the show with Motion Sickness. Like I already said, a real treat for us, even though it was way past our bedtime.

A number of the people that we are thrilled to see on stage were in the audience. In particular, Tony Maceli, Ward Williams and Melissa Tong. Always nice to see them, even if they aren’t part of the show. We also bumped into three more friends there, proving yet again that Alex has a strong following.

Adam Levy played the 10pm set with a band. He wasn’t opening for Alex. Rockwood typically has 45-minute sets with 15-minute breaks for the next artist to set up.

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We’ve seen Adam perform solo (at Jammin’ Java). We’ve seen him back Alex Berger, and we’ve seen him perform duets with ambeR Rubarth. This is the first time we saw him with a band. Hopefully, it won’t be the last!

For those who don’t know, Adam Levy was the guitar player in Norah Jones band, both touring and on at least three of her CDs. ‘Nuff said!

He plays a number of styles and exhibited Country, Jazz, Blues and Folk last night (perhaps more?). He has a gravelly voice, but it’s compelling and draws you in to the song.

Tony Mason on drums. In addition to playing solidly throughout the set, Tony distinguished himself on one extremely tasty drum solo. He also played sidekick to Adam on a number of bits/banter. Clearly, they are friends and mesh together well.

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Jonathan Maron played the bass (I can’t be sure the link is correct since there’s no picture on that profile). He was good throughout the set, but not highlighted.

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We already own Adam’s EP that he recently put out with ambeR Rubarth, but after his set, we also picked up his CD Washing Day (also the name of a song that he co-wrote with ambeR, which we really like!).

We met a friend for dinner before the show. We wandered into Noodle Bar on a whim. We ordered three dishes (one rice, one noodle and one soup) plus ice cream for dessert. I was impressed with every one. The only disappointment came when the bill arrived, and it turned out that they are a cash-only establishment. I had enough (it’s not a very expensive place), but it could have been awkward if it was a few dollars more…

Another wonderful evening out, adding to our already indescribable exhaustion.

Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel at Mercury Lounge

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Lois and I go out of our way to avoid concerts where we have to stand throughout the show. That cuts out a number of top venues in NYC where that’s the norm.

For most rules, there are some exceptions. Last night, knowing we would be standing, we still couldn’t imagine skipping The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel. We would have gone to see either separately, but together, it was a lineup that was a crime to miss.

In fact, here’s my friend’s Facebook update about last night’s show:

HOLY CRAP!! Okay, seriously if you live in NYC and you did not come out to the Mercury Lounge to hear Ian Axel and The Paper Raincoat tonight you should be ashamed of yourself. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G show!

The only thing that would have added icing to the most delicious (birthday) cake would have been adding Vienna Teng to the lineup. While that magic didn’t happen, she was in the audience, so we were at least graced with her presence. 🙂

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Both The Paper Raincoat and Ian Axel had all-star musicians supporting them. I’ll give each of them a shout-out toward the end.

Aside from the always spectacular performances that these artists deliver, last night had an extra-special surprise in store for us. Lois has a birthday this week, and The Paper Raincoat worked up a rendition of Happy Birthday which the jam-packed crowd sang along to.

They were singing the wonderful It All Depends, and toward the end, stopped singing, but continued the beat. Alex Wong announced that their friend Lois was in the crowd, and that it was her birthday, and would everyone please sing Happy Birthday to her. That was cool enough, but he got everyone in the audience to clap a rapid beat (to match the song), and ambeR Rubarth handed Lois a tambourine to play along.

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This was super meaningful to both of us, because it’s only a tad over a year ago, April 17th, 2009, that we first discovered The Paper Raincoat, and that night, Lois also played the tambourine during It All Depends at Canal Room!

They end the song with three people drumming fantastically on the same drum set at the same time (Alex, ambeR and Greg Ritchie). It’s incredible. But this time, because Alex got the crowd clapping in high-speed rhythm, everyone was essentially drumming together at the same time. What a crescendo!

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Speaking of clapping, there was another magical moment early in their set. They opened with Brooklyn Blurs, and then played Sympathetic Vibrations. Before announcing Sympathetic Vibrations or playing a single note, Alex merely said:

For those of you who already know your part, join me now

Nearly everyone in the crowd (probably close to 200 people) didn’t need any other clue. We all started clapping a pretty intricate beat to Sympathetic Vibrations. Too cool to describe, seriously. Having 200 people stop on cue as well is something to behold.

For the tiniest taste of the show (you can’t capture the feeling in a YouTube video), here they are performing the above-mention song, clapping and all, Sympathetic Vibrations at Mercury Lounge, last night.

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Mercury Lounge has a capacity of 250 people. It had to be close to full. The crowd was insane for Ian Axel and just as loud (between songs) and interactive for The Paper Raincoat. Standing wasn’t bad, because it’s impossible not to move with the music, so you’re really not stationary (not that we’ll start searching out shows to stand for).

Early in Ian’s set, he played a particularly energetic song, sung with his usual passion. He was probably close to collapsing in a pool of sweat at the end of the number. Someone in the crowd yelled out “Play in again!”. Lois immediately added “This time, with feeling!”, which evoked a huge laugh both from the audience, and from Ian himself. 🙂

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Joining Ian on stage for two numbers was Chad Vaccarino. For the first number, they were also joined by Mike Campbell (I can’t find a good link for him). They played Shorty Don’t Wait. It was awesome. Here’s a YouTube video of them performing it from last night’s show.

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Immediately following that, Ian did his signature song (which is the title cut of his new CD), This Is The New Year. Chad is featured on that as well. Seriously, check out the “official” video of that song as well. If an Ian set was comprised of simply playing that song 10 times in a row, I bet no one would leave disappointed! 🙂

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During The Paper Raincoat set, they announced that Paste Magazine (one of the premiere music industry publications) will be featuring them for the next month or so. I think the magazine will be giving away a free song each week, and a bonus free song from artists that The Paper Raincoat will pick to match their own free song. Awesome for those of you who haven’t yet bought their amazing CD!

The Paper Raincoat et. al. taking a bow at the end of their show:

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On to the shout-outs for all the amazing musicians who were on stage. Starting with the people supporting The Paper Raincoat:

David Fallo on viola was superb!

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Melissa Tong on violin was her typical excellent self!

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Greg Ritchie on drums. As I pointed out in a recent blog covering The Paper Raincoat in Norfolk, VA, the drums are an integral part of The Paper Raincoat sound. They did an amazing job in Norfolk without a drummer, but the sound was distinctly different.

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Filling the shoes of Kevin Rice and Adam Christgau, the two drummers who between them play at nearly every show is no small task. Greg did an excellent job. I judge that by how many times I can’t help but look away from the singing (and other instruments) and I’m forced to zone in on some top-notch drumming. That happened often enough last night. 🙂

Tony Maceli on electric bass. Tony is always wonderful. Typically, Tony plays the upright bass and occasionally switches to the electric. Last night’s show was purely electric (both the instrument, and Tony’s play!).

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On to Ian’s band:

Chris Kuffner on electric guitar. As masterful as he always is, but I’m still dying to see him wail on the bass (where I’m told by people I trust that Chris will blow my mind!). We also finally got to meet Chris last night after seeing him play quite a number of times. He’s incredibly nice (no surprise for this group of musicians!).

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Adam Christgau on drums. Man, it’s been a little too long since we’ve had the pleasure. We got hooked on seeing Adam often over the past year, and he’s captivated me each time. Adam was a trooper because directly from last night’s set with Ian, he ran to Joe’s Pub to play the 9:30 show with Julian Velard.

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Chris Anderson on electric bass. Chris is perfectly matched with Ian, both musically and passionately. We love his play and his style every time we see him.

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We were at the head of the line to get in when the doors opened (no surprise). That had the added benefit of us being at the door when the musicians were coming and going after sound check. Here are some pictures right outside the club, before the show started, with a few shots at the bar after the show thrown in for good measure. 🙂

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