Tim O’Brien

Tim O’Brien at Joe’s Pub

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Last night we went to see Tim O’Brien perform at Joe’s Pub.

Before I get to the show, I need to correct one (possible) mis-statement in yesterday’s long post about Kathy Mattea. Near the end of that post, I said the following:

Kathy is playing at the Barns again tonight. Ironically, we’re headed (in a few minutes) back to Joe’s Pub, to see Tim O’Brien. Tim writes amazing songs, a number of them have become big hits for Kathy. So, we’ll continue to think about Kathy, Bill, Eamonn and David as we enjoy Tim tonight! :-)

Most of that is true, but I can’t verify this specific part:

a number of them have become big hits for Kathy.

Kathy spoke about Tim warmly, that she loves to sing harmonies with Tim and his sister Mollie, and she links to his site from hers. That said, I had assumed that because they sang Battle Hymn of Love together (and hit the charts with it) that he wrote it. Google searches seem to contradict that (though I found one site that listed him as the writer of the song).

Lois has been a (theoretical) fan of Tim’s ever since that song came out, but neither of us really knew his music (as a solo artist) at all. We had no idea what to expect last night. There was an opening act before him, but I’ll get to that after I cover Tim.

Tim came on the stage at 7:08pm. Before he stepped out, there were four instruments lined up on the stage (not unlike the photo I posted of Girlyman’s instruments sitting on the same stage three days earlier). There was a guitar, a banjo, a fiddle and a bouzouki (which looked exactly like a 12-string guitar to me). Both Lois and I assumed that he had a band with him.

Nope. Tim played all of the instruments during the course of the show (one at a time, of course). πŸ˜‰

Here are four photos of him, one with each instrument. Sorry, but the quality of at least three of them is pretty bad. Lighting at Joe’s conspires against high quality photos in general, but last night’s came out worse:

Tim O\'Brien on GuitarTim O\'Brien on Bouzouki

Tim O\'Brien on FiddleTim O\'Brien on Banjo

He’s an extremely self-effacing character/performer, but yet is in complete control of the rhythm of the performance. He is extremely funny, without telling many jokes. Here’s one example (of many):

He was about to play a sad song, and mentioned that D-Minor was the saddest key of all, as proven by This Is Spinal Tap. Therefore, he was going to play this song in C-Minor, to make it a little less sad… πŸ˜‰

Lois has never seen the movie This Is Spinal Tap, so she didn’t get the reference, but I laughed my head off (silently, of course). πŸ˜‰

With the exception of a few whimsical songs (which we thoroughly enjoyed!), his lyrics show an incredible depth and intelligence, in helping the rest of us understand the human condition. They vary over a wide array of topics, with recurring themes about love. The love part is one of the reasons that I assumed he wrote Battle Hymn of Love.

He has an excellent voice with a wide range. He is an excellent musician as well, on all four of the aforementioned instruments (I’ve read that he plays the mandolin as well, but he didn’t last night). Of the four instruments, the one that he didn’t come across as strong on was the banjo (one of my favorite instruments), but he’s no slouch on that one either.

Early in the evening, he played something on the guitar that prompted Lois to lean over and ask me what I thought of his talent relative to Bill Cooley. I couldn’t control myself, and I started laughing (thankfully, not loud enough to disturb anyone, at least I hope not!). Seriously, at that point in the concert, Tim’s playing seemed fine to me, but to compare him to Bill was funny.

That said, over the course of the evening, he played a number of songs that stretched his guitar playing considerably, including switching to a variety of styles, and he really nailed them all. I don’t amend my laughter at the comparison at all (Bill’s in a league with very few others), but Tim isn’t just a journeyman guitarist, he’s really excellent!

His fiddle playing is quite strong as well. I find it funny (not in a bad way) to watch a solo artist sing a song and accompany themselves on the fiddle. There’s something simply odd about it. I think it’s my own misconception that to play the fiddle well you have to concentrate so hard that you probably couldn’t also sing at the same time. I’m obviously wrong, at least in Tim’s case. He only played one instrumental during the show, and that was on the fiddle.

There’s no doubt that my other statement in yesterdays blog is definitely true, that he’s an amazing songwriter. He’s also prolific. On his site, there are 14 CDs by him, three more with his sister, quite a number more with bands he likely played in (sorry, no time to research too deeply now). Clearly, he has lots to say, because these aren’t instrumentals. At the show, we bought the latest CD, Chameleon, of which many songs in the show were from.

He left the stage on what seemed a tad on the early side. The crowd was applauding wildly when he came back out for an encore. Instead of doing just one song, he did a four-song encore, which ended up making his total time on the stage reasonable at one hour and 24 minutes.

We really enjoyed the show, and would happily go see Tim again!

Opening for Tim was Caroline Herring. I knew from Joe’s site that she would be opening, and I listened to one clip of her in advance, and knew that we would enjoy her music. It was probably listed correctly and I didn’t pay attention, but she came on the stage at 6:30pm. I was putting a forkful of their fantastic Tuna steak in my mouth, when people started clapping (I was facing slightly away from the stage at the time).

I thought “Hey, they can’t be clapping for me taking yet another mouth-watering taste of this Tuna, can they?” πŸ˜‰

I swung around and saw that Caroline just stepped onto the stage. I’m not happy about still having to eat while the performer is on stage, it’s at best a tad distracting only to the eater, and at worst distracting to others, including the performer! But, I love early shows (normally, we’re just old folk, but last night, we were also working on less than four hours of sleep), so I was quite happy about this surprise.

Caroline is good, and we enjoyed her solo act (she accompanies herself on the guitar). That said, we also didn’t find it to be anything particularly special, and I’m sure we wouldn’t rush out to see her again. If she was opening for someone else that we liked, we would be happy to see her again.

She definitely had some fans there who came to see her. One couple who was sitting one table up from us left after Caroline was done, so they were happy to pay the full freight for Tim O’Brien, just to see Caroline Herring. Good for her!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Joe’s Pub is our favorite concert venue. When we go just the two of us, we reserve the same table for two every time (and as reported before, only got bumped from that table once, after being told we had it). When we go with four people, we also reserve the same table for four each time, and have never been bumped from that table.

Last night, we had our usual table reserved. We were the third and fourth people through the door and they sent us to a different table. When we asked, we were told that even though they reserve a specific table, it’s not a guarantee. Well, we realize that, but exactly what makes them change it? Anyway, when he saw the disappointment on our face, and perhaps realized that we come pretty darn often, he told the hostess to take us to our table. Whew. It was marginally frustrating to begin with, but kudos to Joe’s for doing the right thing for incredibly loyal customers! πŸ™‚

The food was great (as always). I know from past experience that there are two bartenders at Joe’s. They disagree on the proper ingredients in a Chocolate Martini. There are numerous variations on the theme, and all are correct (to my taste buds!) πŸ˜‰ so they are both right. Still, they’re different. 95% of the time I (without requesting it) get the one who is more right (to my taste), because s/he puts in some Bailey’s Irish Creme to top off the martini. That makes it perfect, instead of just awesome. πŸ˜‰

On Sunday, when we were there for Girlyman, I had the other bartender, because I got a dark chocolate martini. It was great, so I’m not complaining, even though I drew the short straw. Last night, all was right with the world again, since my drink showed up with the Bailey’s, right where it belonged. πŸ™‚

In my post about Canal Room (where we saw the awesome Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour and Craig D’Andrea) I railed about the lack of common courtesy that some people exhibit when they insist on having a loud conversation during a performance. Last night was nowhere near as bad, but two people (I’m pretty sure one was a guy and the other a gal, but they were directly behind me so it was hard to see) insisted on speaking to each other at the top of their lungs (of course, the music was interfering with their conversation), at least five times.

Folks, I just don’t understand this. At Canal Room, I had the impression that they were more on a date than there for the music. Last night stumped me, as the same couple did something else that was slightly less annoying, but annoying nonetheless. On the songs where they didn’t scream at each other (lovingly) πŸ˜‰ they clapped as loud as thunder, at inappropriate times, in the middle of the song. Perhaps they were just catching up with the clapping that they missed during their earlier conversations…

Even otherwise nice people, who are clearly fans, can get caught up in this lunacy! The table to our immediate right was a table for four. There were two couples seated there (boys on one side, girls on the other), and I’m 99% sure they had never met before. The couple immediately to my right (I was practically rubbing shoulders with the woman) were clearly big music fans (possibly Caroline and/or Tim fans specifically). They both clapped enthusiastically after each number, but the woman was a screamer (hey, settle down!).

At some point in the evening, the two couples started chatting a bit. I heard them discussing politics, but none of the individual comments. Now that they bonded, in the middle of one of Tim’s songs, the woman further away from me turned to the woman next to me and started chatting, loudly. Even though the woman next to me was a fan, I guess she didn’t want to be rude to her new friend, so she engaged in a song-long conversation, at quite a loud level. Thankfully, this only happened during one song. I still don’t get it…

We decided half way through the show that we were going to buy the new Chameleon CD. I handed Lois $20 (it cost $15) because she’s more nimble than me, and she was going to sprint to the merch table so we could get out quicker. I’d meet her there, but saunter over.

When the show was over, Lois was gone. The merch table is normally (heretofore always?!?) behind the stage, next to the coat check room. It’s in a fairly large and wide hallway, so even when a lot of fans line up, it’s usually not that hard to maneuver around there. Last night, as I was going through the narrow passageway that connects the show room to that back hallway, I saw Lois walking with and chatting with Tim O’Brien himself, carrying a small suitcase.

This seemed very odd to me. My first thought was that he was running outside to have a smoke before going back to sign CDs. I was wrong. For whatever reason, Joe’s didn’t want, or couldn’t accommodate the merch table in the back (perhaps the needs of the next act precluded having fans in the back). So, they made Tim and Caroline sell their own merch right at the front door. That’s one of the tiniest entrance ways I’ve ever seen, and many people just wanted to leave, so at best, it was confusing.

We also got the sense that they were (subtly or otherwise) trying to rush Tim and Caroline to get it over with, even though it hadn’t even started yet! In any event, it wasn’t a happy situation. Luckily for us, since Lois snagged Tim on the way to the front, she got to buy the first CD from him. I already told you that he’s a smart guy. Here’s one example. He had already removed the shrink-wrap off of all of the CDs, since most people want them signed, and therefore have to take the time to rip off the shrink-wrap anyway. Kudos Tim!

We were home by 8:55pm which was a real blessing given our state of exhaustion. Lois was zonked out 30 minutes later, and I finally called it quits by 10:15pm. Going to see Dave Mason tomorrow night, but tonight we get a break. Yippee! (or not…)

For the next month, I’ll conclude every post with the reminder that there’s still time to try and win a copy of the new Girlyman Live CD. I’m running a contest to win a signed copy all month!

Kathy Mattea at Wolftrap

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Last night we saw Kathy Mattea for the second time on her Coal tour (that’s the name of her new CD). The previous time was at Joe’s Pub on October 24th, 2007 covered in this post. We both thoroughly enjoyed that show, as you can see for yourself if you clicked on that post.

To me personally, the most important nugget in that review was my statement that:

Bill Cooley is possibly the greatest acoustic guitarist I have ever heard!

I’ve been following him closely ever since (and have written about him and his CDs a number of times). Here are two links for Bill Cooley, one being his new MySpace page. When he let me know about his new MySpace page, I blogged about it. During that first visit to his new page, I saw that he was going to be at the Barns at Wolftrap with Kathy on April 1st and 2nd, 2008. We already had tickets to see Girlyman there (which was to be our first time at Wolftrap) on March 26th, 2008.

I told Lois that I would be happy to pass. I think Kathy is wonderful, but the Coal stuff, while extremely interesting and moving (she delivers it with all the emotion due such a project!), is heavy stuff, and hearing it again live wasn’t a priority.

Lois is a long-time fan of Kathy’s, and I would have been thrilled to go there if Lois really wanted to see it again. I shouldn’t have been surprised by Lois’ (unselfish) answer. She said “Bill Cooley is your favorite guitarist, how can you pass up an opportunity to see him?”

OK, that cinched it, we grabbed two tickets, unfortunately, in the balcony, since Kathy is a big name that fills seats quickly. At the time we bought the tickets, we had no idea whether that was going to be nose-bleed territory, or good seats. Also at the time, we were scheduled to be down at Zope for two weeks (the week before during the Girlyman show, and then this week).

If you read this space regularly, you know that got turned upside down with our unplanned trip to back to NYC to see Girlyman again on Sunday March 30th, 2008, covered in this post. That meant running back to VA to see Kathy. We had to drop our young guest off anyway, so it wasn’t a chore.

When we saw Girlyman, we saw that the balcony seats weren’t that far. Lois noticed that they were plastic, while the chairs in the main area are like padded dining room chairs. At least we knew what we’d be in for last night, a week in advance.

OK, finally, the show, followed by tons of background info (trust me, it will be worth reading the background if you like connectedness stories).

Kathy came on the stage just with Bill at 8:03. That was already exciting (for me). πŸ˜‰ She sang a slow ballad without her guitar, with only Bill accompanying her. After that song, the other two members of the band came on stage. Eamonn O’Rourke and David Spicher. Here’s what I wrote about Eamonn in the Joe’s Pub post, and there’s no need to change a word:

Eamonn O’Rourke is an outstanding mandolin player. His fiddle playing is even better. In the past few years, I’ve seen some amazing fiddle work. While I wouldn’t say that Eamonn is the best (like I did for Bill Cooley above), he certainly isn’t far from it. He also sings harmonies with Kathy.

David Spicher plays the upright bass and is new to the band. He was absolutely outstanding! Like Eamonn, he sang harmonies with Kathy (more on that later). Here’s David’s bio from the above link:

David Spicher (bass & vocals) The son of session fiddle king Buddy Spicher, David’s performed with Crystal Gayle, Merle Haggard, Pam Tillis, the Jerry Douglas Band, polka queen Lynn Marie, the Nashville Symphony, and his own Nashville Swing Band.

They can now safely add Kathy Mattea to the above string of stars that David has played with. πŸ™‚

The new Coal CD was released yesterday, so last night was the first chance for anyone to buy it. Kathy talked about the release as a birthing process, so she intended to change things up on this special day from previous nights on the tour. At Joe’s Pub, she intermixed the mostly Coal songs with a smattering of her hits. Last night, she announced that the first set would be the hits part, with Coal coming in one long shot after an intermission.

This was a crowd well familiar with Kathy’s hits. One wonders whether they come there to really discover the Coal stuff, to simply support the new effort, or secretly hoping that Kathy will do enough of the hits to make it great, regardless of how they respond to Coal. The first set didn’t disappoint even for a second. She was great on the hits, and the crowd loved every second of it.

Roughly four songs into the set, she asked if there were any requests. The Barns have phenomenal acoustics, so you could hear the individual requests quite clearly, even in the balcony! People screamed out so many different titles. After a bunch were screamed out, someone yelled out another, and many of the people in our section starting murmuring to each other (not loud enough for Kathy to hear) “Yes, that’s a good one.”

All the while, Lois was trying to get me to yell out Asking Us To Dance. I didn’t do it, and I could tell she was disappointed in me. I don’t recall hearing anyone else yell it out either, so that meant that we could only hope it would be played later in the set, by design, rather than by request.

A minute later Kathy had decided what she was going to play. She turned to the bass player, and said “You’ve never heard this one before, so just fake it in C”. πŸ˜‰

Then she started playing Asking Us To Dance! I have written before that Lois is Always Right (search if you want to read it, it pains me to link to it so many times) πŸ˜‰ but what I am not sure I’ve ever mentioned in public before is that Lois also conjures people and things by simply speaking about them out loud. No, I’m not kidding! Perhaps that’s why we have such an affinity to Wicked! πŸ˜‰

To repeat, the rest of the set was spectacular as well, and the band is scary good, as individuals and as a group. Of course, Bill nails every single guitar riff, the subtle ones, and the scary fast ones as well.

Here’s an admission that I hope will be taken in the spirit it is intended (meaning, this has nothing to do with Kathy’s abilities!). On occasion, without trying or thinking about it, I realize that I’m concentrating on Bill’s playing, and Kathy’s voice becomes the background accompaniment to this extraordinary guitar playing. Again, that’s not to say that Kathy isn’t an amazing headliner, she truly is.

This is possible because Kathy is extremely generous in giving Bill so many opportunities to shine. I am willing to swear on a stack of bibles that she looks over at Bill with the same awe that I do, every time he takes a solo. They’ve been playing together for 18 years, and she’s no slouch on the guitar herself, so if I’m right, it’s a beautiful thing to see that she appreciates him now as much (if not more!) than she did in the beginning.

In addition, Bill arranges much of their music (he arranged the Christmas Tour and worked with Kathy on the Coal album as well). In other words, in addition to being a genius on the guitar, he’s also an amazing musician from a theory point of view as well.

The first set lasted 55 minutes. After a 15 minute intermission, they came out for the Coal set. As Kathy herself jokes, it’s quite depressing. It’s historically important to never forget the stories and times that these songs are about, but that doesn’t make it any more lighthearted. It’s beautiful stuff, extremely evocative, but it’s not something I’d want to listen to constantly.

Ironically, it’s in this set that Eamonn really wailed on some fiddle playing. You have to blink really rapidly to make sure it’s possible to move your fingers and the bow that fast and make such gorgeous sounds at the same time. Wow.

They finished with the same instrumental (the only instrumental of the night) that they did at Joe’s Pub, including Kathy playing on the penny whistle (or piccolo, or tiny flute, who knows?). I am crazy about that song. I could swear it’s something either Nickel Creek or Chris Thile plays too, but I’m not really sure. Simply brilliant.

They left the stage at 10:20pm, which made for two hours of playing (not including the intermission). A very generous show! I’m extremely glad we went. That said, as much as I loved the show (and I did!), it’s the rest of the story, coming up right now (to a browser near you), that really made the evening special!

I said I’d mention the harmonies. They are pleasant (and professional) enough, but very sparse (only during choruses) and both Eamonn and David seem to sing the same notes (meaning, two-part harmony, not three). Bill doesn’t even have a mic, so he doesn’t sing on stage. After seeing Girlyman twice in the last week, the harmonies last night felt gratuitous. Nothing wrong with them, but hard to call them harmonies in comparison…

OK, now is the part of the post that I most enjoy writing, and I hope I don’t lose you along the way.

When I first posted the above-referenced announcement of Bill Cooley’s MySpace page, I got a lovely comment on my blog from a complete stranger, Willa Shaffer. After replying to her comment, I visited her MySpace page. As a result of that, and another page of hers that I visited, we exchanged a few emails directly.

She is a very big Kathy Mattea fan and saw my Bill Cooley news via a Google alert. Since she has been to many Kathy concerts, she knows the band well too, including Bill. She’s a big fan of Bill’s as well! Great! She let me know that she would be at the same show we would be at, and that she had seats in the first row, so coupled with her photo on MySpace, I should be able to find her easily. Cool. After a few more emails, we stopped communicating until a week ago, when we confirmed that we would try and get together.

As an homage to Willa, let me provide a link to another of her favorite artists. She feels similarly about Krista Detor as Lois and I feel about Girlyman. Meaning, not only does she love Krista, but she really works hard to make sure others discover her. Here’s my small attempt to help her on her mission!

We got to the Barns at 7:15 and bought both the Coal CD as well as a John Vezner CD (that’s Kathy’s husband, who is an amazing songwriter, who Lois really loves). There was a sign at the merch table saying that Kathy would be out to sign CDs after the show. It was our intention to get on line and get both CDs signed.

We went in to the Barn (theater) at 7:40 and took our seats in the balcony. It seemed further away from the stage than the view from our fifth row seats made it appear the week before. On the other hand, the plastic seats were surprisingly more comfortable than the padded ones on the floor. We looked for Willa, but she had let me know in advance that she couldn’t make it early, so we decided to wait for the intermission or after the show.

At 7:45pm, both Lois and I noticed that Bill came on the stage to set up his guitars. He was alone on the stage. Lois encouraged me to go down and say hello. We were very far away, and I didn’t know if he’d still be there after I climbed down the stairs and made my way to the stage, but Lois insisted, so I dutifully went. I indeed got to shake his hand. He remembered that I was from NY (which was cool in itself!), and thanked me for coming. We agreed to connect after the show. Here’s a grainy photo that Lois took of that encounter from the balcony:

Hadar and Bill Cooley at the Stage

Yes folks, that’s my honking bald spot. Nothing more to see here, keep moving along…

At intermission, Lois told me to go down and look for Willa. Given my mental image of her (with reasonably light hair color being the key, since we could only see the back of people’s heads!), I declined, since I had no likely suspects. Lois went instead. After standing there for a few minutes, and asking one woman (who declined to accept being called Willa), Lois was about to head back.

At that point, the real Willa stopped her and asked if her name was Lois? Haha. Thank goodness I sent Willa a link with our pictures in it as well, so she recognized Lois from that! From the balcony, Willa’s hair looked jet black. It wasn’t.

Willa mentioned to Lois that there were four empty seats in the row behind them. Lois asked the usherette whether we could move down from the balcony and she said yes. Cool. So, for the second half of the show, we were in the second row, in the exact same seats that we were in three rows further back for Girlyman! While it would have been great to sit in those seats for the entire show, I have to admit that having both perspectives during the same show was quite interesting.

After the show, we got on line and waited to get our CDs signed. I was also waiting for Bill to come out. After a while, Willa joined us and said that Bill almost never comes out, and that I should go back to the stage to catch him while he was packing his guitars. I hesitated, and didn’t go. After a few more minutes, I decided to hit the men’s room before our long drive back to NY.

When I came out, Bill was standing there with Lois and Willa. Willa was so kind to have gone back and asked Bill to come out! Thanks Willa!

We chatted briefly with Bill and Lois took this photo of us together:

Hadar and Bill Cooley

By this time, it was getting late, and we were going to push through all the way back to NY, so reluctantly, we bailed on meeting Kathy. Bill signed our CDs, so it wasn’t a loss. πŸ™‚

Willa informed me later that Kathy got caught up with a group of her former Music Teachers, and ended up coming out much later than she usually does. Great for her, and slightly bad luck for us. We’ll catch her next time!

I noticed as we were leaving that people were surrounding Bill and asking for autographs. He had admitted to me during our chat that he rarely comes out. He should, as Willa told me today that people continued to surround him long after we left. We’re not alone in understanding that this man has more talent in his 10 fingers than most people have in their entire bodies! πŸ™‚

Kathy is playing at the Barns again tonight. Ironically, we’re headed (in a few minutes) back to Joe’s Pub, to see Tim O’Brien. Tim writes amazing songs, a number of them have become big hits for Kathy. So, we’ll continue to think about Kathy, Bill, Eamonn and David as we enjoy Tim tonight! πŸ™‚

We got home (to the house) at 3am. We slept for three hours and 40 minutes, and got up and drove to the city. Now we’re off.

Today, we exchanged a ton of emails with Willa. She’s a hoot, and writes fantastically, and we are so glad to have made a new life-long friend. Have I mentioned how much I love the Internet? If not, let me say I love the Internet! πŸ™‚

Don’t forget, we have a Girlyman Live CD Contest going on. One entry so far, and it’s a very good one! πŸ™‚