Ward Williams

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.

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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).

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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

TonyMaceliIanHolljesElizabethHopkinsEricHolljes

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

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Alex Berger lives in London. That’s sad enough (for us, not necessarily for him), but the really sad part is that we get to see him perform rather infrequently. When he’s in town, and schedules a show, it’s a must-see event. Last night was the night!

From the first time we saw Alex perform (9/21/2009), I considered him to be an excellent songwriter, a great piano player and a constantly improving (and interesting!) guitar player. Add to those basics his absolutely amazing voice (last night showed off a multi-octave range) and his warm/funny/engaging/relaxed stage presence, and you can be sure we’ll be coming to see him for years to come.

AlexBergerPiano

In addition to playing the title cut from his previous (still current) CD, Snow Globe (a multi award-winning number), Alex mostly played songs from his upcoming (as yet unrecorded) CD. I really love every song that I’ve heard. In addition to being great songs in general, Alex seems to have found a niche (for my taste) in making people laugh out loud at his lyrics.

In other words, he’s translated the easy warmth/humor in his stage banter to fantastic lyrics/images in song. What makes them more special is his delivery. Comedy has two necessary components: the actual material (the thing that makes our brains recognize the twist) and the delivery (which is most often accentuated by comedic timing). Alex has crafted funny songs, but his timing/pacing in delivering those lines is impeccable.

I can’t wait for this CD to be made. I have helped make that a reality, and if you want to do me (and yourself) a personal favor, you’ll help too! Alex is raising money to have it produced (again, like his previous award-winning effort, by the equally amazing Alex Wong). You can click on this link to contribute.

This new CD is full of songs that Alex co-wrote with other talented singer/songwriters. Three of them guest-starred to sing and play the songs with Alex. He also had some special musical guests and even a dancer (yes, it was a spectacle). So, let’s get to it.

Ward Williams joined Alex to open the show. In addition to setting up his cello, Ward pulled over one of the mics from center stage. He noted that he needed it for the big surprise finish. That surprise? Ward singing gorgeous harmony with Alex at the very end of the song. Needless to say, Ward’s cello play was outstanding, complementing Alex’s equally amazing piano play.

WardWilliamsCello

Adam Levy joined Alex to accompany him on their song, A Kiss is as Sweet. Alex sang, Adam sweetly finger-picked the electric guitar, including taking a very long and wonderful solo in the middle.

AlexBergerAdamLevy

Ari Hest joined to sing harmony and finger-pick an acoustic guitar on their co-written number. The interplay with the piano and guitar was beautiful, and Ari’s voice is always wonderful, solo or singing harmony (with pretty much anyone!). Smile

AriHest

Andrew Nemr joined to add percussion to the next song. Well, it was a bit more complicated that that, as the percussion was actually delivered via tap dancing. Andrew is a top dancer.

AndrewNemr

He danced on two numbers. On the first, Alex played the guitar (wonderfully!). On the second, Alex sang The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), almost a cappella. There was an amazing bass player who provided the only accompaniment (described next). At one point, it was just Andrew dancing and the bass player, with Alex watching in amazement.

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Gregory Jones was the bass player, on the upright. He was wonderful on Alex’s song, but really came to life when he was the sole instrument (if you don’t include the sound made by tap shoes) on The Christmas Song. Very well done!

GregoryJones

Jay Stolar came up to sing and play acoustic guitar on their co-written number, Last Night in Tokyo (one of the ones that slays me). They asked Martin Rivas to join them so they could amp up the three-part harmony. An absolutely perfect way to end an exceptional set!

JayStolarAlexBergerMartinRivasJayStolar

We got to say hi to so many people before the show (some that we see all the time, and some that only come out for special occasions, of which Alex Berger is obviously one). More photos were taken as we were leaving (after the next set, covered separately), so here are only a few of the ones that were taken before Alex’s set:

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Alex Wong at Rockwood Music Hall CMJ

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Alex Wong has a full-band show this coming Monday night (10/24/2011) at 9pm at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. There are three other shows that we want to see that night and we haven’t figured out how to be at two places at once, just yet.

Yesterday, Alex had an afternoon showcase at Rockwood, at MPress Records MPressFest (part of the week-long CMJ Festival). Alex isn’t signed to MPress, but they are fans of his (as we are) and wanted to highlight him among their own lineup of artists.

AlexWongPiano

Alex had a full band at this show so we got a preview of what the rest of you can see on Monday. It’s a rare treat (the last time we saw him with a full band was in July), but I suspect we’ll see more of this setup as we head toward next year’s release of Alex’s first solo CD.

Alex is an incredible producer (who is about to enter a grueling stretch of producing albums for: Martin Rivas, Anne Heaton, Delta Rae, Alex Berger, and likely others I am unaware of or can’t recall at the moment). There’s little doubt that he’s transitioning his live shows to bring out more of the flavor that we’ll hear on his own solo CD, rather than the more stripped-down versions we’ve been hearing before he hit the studio.

I say amen to that.

Alex was supported by three people, left-to-right on stage:

Ximena Sarinana on vocals. Ximena sang on a few numbers, including the opener, Always Something Better. A superstar in her own right, hearing her voice blend with Alex’s (or anyone’s, to be honest), is always satisfying.

XimenaSarinana

Ward Williams on cello and electric guitar. Ward always delivers. He switched back-and-forth between the cello and guitar. On one song, he started off looping an ethereal sound on the cello, then picked up the guitar for the majority of the song, turning the cello loop off/on as appropriate. Very cool.

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Elliot Jacobson on drums. You couldn’t have seen two more different drum performances than yesterday’s Alex Wong set and Wednesday’s Jenny Owen Youngs set. Yet, both were fantastic, and both were provided by Elliot, showing off why he’s a very sought after drummer. Given that Alex is a top drummer/percussionist in his own right, selecting Elliot is a very high compliment (well deserved).

ElliotJacobson

Alex spent most of the set at the grand piano. He stepped out to play acoustic guitar on two numbers. One was a nearly solo performance of Patiently (off the upcoming album). The other is one of The Paper Raincoat’s best songs, Brooklyn Blurs.

AlexWongGuitar

Standing next to Elliot was another great drummer, Seth Faulk. I’ve noted at least twice that Seth has an excellent voice. Those comments weren’t made at a Seth Faulk show. In both cases, Seth was in the audience, singing along with the performer on stage. In one of those cases, Seth was standing right behind me, so I got a personal serenade (that was at an Alex Wong show too!).

Alex is obviously aware that Seth knows his material and can sing it beautifully. He egged Seth to join him on stage for Brooklyn Blurs. It took roughly five attempts, but finally Seth came center stage and harmonized with Alex. Yay!

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The set was so good that I feel even worse that we’ll be missing Alex on Monday. On the other hand, I feel great that we caught this one and got a preview of Monday’s set. The other advantage of this one over Monday’s is that Ximena will no longer be in town for that show, so we were rewarded for playing hooky from work on a Friday afternoon. Smile

Valerie Mize at Rockwood Music Hall

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On Sunday, I started the post about Sierra Noble as follows:

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

Since every word applies to Valerie Mize equally (including the falling madly in love part), I’ll plagiarize myself out of pure laziness. Winking smile We first saw Valerie singing backup at the Soul Revue Benefit. Then we saw her perform a 3-song set at Backscratch XIV. We’ve seen her singing backup twice since, which made us want to see her perform a full set last night at Rockwood Music Hall.

ValerieMize

In the Backscratch post I mentioned that Valerie has a beautiful voice and plays the guitar very well. Let me underscore both points and add a new one: she writes songs that both Lois and I love! Her lyrics flow smoothly with many interesting phrases. The songs are structured really well and are executed wonderfully.

We picked up a copy of her Auspices EP at Backscratch. We like it so much that we bought another copy last night for three reasons: 1) We wanted a signed copy, 2) We like to support the artists we love, 3) Some lucky friend of ours will get the unsigned copy that we currently have.

Since I underscored the old comments, let me explain a bit. Valerie’s voice has tremendous range and different tonality when appropriate. She can do a throaty soul type number, as well as soaring laser-like notes when singing above the audience on Downtown Train. She ended the show with the latter, crushing the highs.

Valerie finger picks the electric guitar beautifully, but she took it to levels that didn’t come through at Backscratch (for lack of time). Her guitar play on Tell Me Why (the first song on the EP) is fantastic. It’s gorgeous on the EP too, but live, it’s actually mesmerizing. Easy to miss how good the rest of the song is while your eyes are glued to her fingers.

Enough about Valerie already. Winking smile Actually, sorry, I do need to say one more thing. Valerie is one of the most natural on-stage performers. She is quick witted and appears completely comfortable (regardless of whatever nerves might be going on under the covers). When she flubbed the beginning guitar part to a song late in the set, she restarted twice. After the second error, she noted that this was as much a comedy set as a music one. Folks, if she wanted to, she likely could be a good comedian (or do you prefer comedienne?).

On to the band. Left-to-right on the stage:

Ward Williams on cello. We’ve seen Ward many times. He was terrific every single time. Last night as well, but it was also a bit special. I was sitting 12 inches from the cello. If Ward had worse aim with the bow, he could have poked my eye out. Winking smile On one song it was mostly Ward and Valerie alone. Absolutely gorgeous. Ward plucked a bunch in addition to the more traditional bowing. It had been a while since we’d last seen Ward, so this was a wonderful surprise!

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Bri Arden on background vocals. I recently covered Bri’s full set. Since Valerie sang backup at that set, Bri returned the favor here. The same comments apply. Having a legitimate lead singer sing background is a treat, because they understand their job well, knowing what works for them when they are in the lead. Needless to say, Bri did a great job.

BriArdenValerieMizeBriArdenHarmonizing

Antar Goodwin on electric bass. I am extremely impressed with Antar’s play. What was fascinating to me last night was that he was blocked from my view for nearly the entire set, except for his left hand, which I could see dancing up and down the frets (body-less). Since I could also hear the bass perfectly, it was like watching a finger ballet matching the sound.

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Here’s a shot of what Antar looked like to me:

ValerieMizeBriArdenAntarGoodwinsHand

Tomo Kanno on drums. Tomo was excellent throughout the set as well. The core trio (Valerie, Antar and Tomo) are extremely tight and well-matched.

TomoKanno

Perhaps the most surprising (and welcome) thing was the absolutely perfect volume level on every instrument and both voices. Given that the guitar and bass were electric and that I was three feet from the guitar amp and six from the bass amp, I would typically have been blown out in a Rockwood 1 set. Kudos to the band for finding the right amp levels and allowing Drew on sound to level everything else to match (voices and cello).

Here’s the set list. Valerie played all five songs from the EP, plus five more (excellent) songs. We both particularly liked Cinderella:

SetList

So, when does Valerie play again? Winking smile

Alex Berger at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We waited nearly a year for the pleasure of seeing Alex Berger perform live again. We had to console ourselves by listening to his wonderful CD, Snow Globe. It’s great, but it’s not quite the same as seeing Alex live. Last night was his first time performing at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. We weren’t scheduled to be in NYC this week, but we couldn’t resist changing our plans in order to catch the show.

Wow, we are both so grateful that we did that. This will be a long post, which I know means most of you will bail now. So, the bottom line first, it was an absolutely spectacular show (as in awesome, but also a spectacle, in the best sense!).

On to the details! Smile Most of the photos were taken during setup, since the stage was so crowded there were very few clear shots from as close as we were to the stage.

Alex is just here visiting (briefly) from his native UK. That he was able to get booked into Rockwood 2 is good enough. That it was mobbed is a testament to how many fans and friends Alex has. If you know someone who is nicer than Alex Berger, please tell me now, because I very much want to meet that person and become their friend!

AlexBerger

Let’s start with Alex’s talents (as a singer/songwriter, I don’t have enough time to cover his talents as a person!). Alex has a fantastic voice. I am a very happy person (nearly 100% of the time), but if I’m ever tense, I’m sure that listening to Alex sing would relax me instantly.

Alex is fantastic on the keyboards (last night he played the grand piano). He can tickle my ivories any time he wishes. Winking smile

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Alex plays the guitar beautifully (last night he played Adam Levy’s electric guitar). I believe we were at the show where Alex first played a guitar publicly (The Living Room, on 1/11/2010). Perhaps he was practicing for years, but if he has truly only been playing the guitar for roughly a year, he’s picked it up extremely quickly. He closed the show solo with a finger-picking masterpiece (more on that later).

Alex writes gorgeous (lush) songs. Most are more of a throwback to jazz, ragtime, Dixieland, blues styles, but he also has some pop tunes (just to confuse you). Winking smile One of the most pleasant concert surprises I had was seeing Harry Connick Jr. play at Radio City Music Hall (I simply didn’t know his music well). If you like him (and how smooth he is), you’ll like (love!) Alex Berger, I’m sure.

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So, if you trust me (and why shouldn’t you, I haven’t steered you wrong yet!), then we can move on to the numerous musicians who joined Alex on stage last night. I’ve never seen that many people on stage at the same time at Rockwood. Most songs had eight people playing at the same time (a veritable orchestra!). There was a ninth person as well (we’ll get to him), but not all the others were on stage when he was. So, the record (for me) is eight on stage at once.

Left-to-right and front-to-back, here’s who sat (or stood) in with Alex:

Melissa Tong on violin. I can never say enough, or get enough of Melissa. We just saw Melissa play with Artemis Chamber Ensemble the day before, and I covered that in this post. It was a treat to see her change styles so radically a day apart.

MelissaTong

Christiana Liberis on violin. Christiana was wonderful! She and Melissa did not play in unison, they each had their own leads. I admit to thinking that Lindsay Lohan was getting on stage to play the violin, but it was only the looks that deceived me. Christiana was well behaved. Winking smile

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Marika Hughes on cello. We’ve seen Marika a number of times and she never disappoints.

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Ward Williams on cello. We’ve seen Ward many times as well and he too is a wonderful cellist. As with Melissa and Christiana, Marika and Ward often played different parts.

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Tony Maceli on upright and electric bass. Tony was wonderful (as he always is). On the opening number, it was pretty much just Alex and Tony playing, with Tony taking a long tasty solo on the upright bass.

TonyMaceli

Katie Scheele on oboe. Katie is part of Threeds a wonderful oboe trio in NYC. We’ve seen Threeds and Katie separately a number of times and always enjoy her performance. She had a few standout solos last night and was always interesting even when in the background.

KatieScheele

Elliot Jacobson on drums. Tucked away in the corner, behind all these wonderful musicians was one of my (newly discovered) favorite drummers. I wrote about Elliot in a post about Bess Rogers. Let me add to my praise of Elliot. Before seeing him, at least two people told me Elliot was a “real hitter”. That means he strikes the drums really hard. Both people think Elliot is a great drummer, so it was a compliment, but it could also be taken to mean that Elliot is one-dimensional. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Last night, Elliot drummed nothing like he did for Bess and Lelia. He used brushes, had soft touches on the rims only and in general kept a quiet (appropriately) but steady beat to the more jazzy numbers that Alex played. To repeat, my respect for Elliot Jacobson grew last night. Sorry, no good photo of Elliot, this will have to do:

ElliotJacobson

Including Alex, that makes eight people.

Alex Wong joined Alex Berger on stage for one number. They played a song they co-wrote this weekend. According to Berger, they finished it the morning of the show, when they were rehearsing it to play for us. That kind of stuff just amazes me. Yes, they both had the words written down. Still, they nailed it. Lois cried during the song, titled The Fighter.

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Alex Wong played the piano and Berger sang with him (they alternated verses and sang harmony throughout). Wong also scored all of the strings for the entire show. If you’ve never read this space before, then you don’t know how in awe I am of Alex Wong. Now you know! Smile

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Alex (back to Berger now) had a number of songs left on his set list, but the mean management at Rockwood told him he could only do one more. Winking smile

Set List

He chose to play a cover. The song is called Washing Day, co-written by ambeR Rubarth and Adam Levy. I love the song. It has a wonderful feel to it (really slow). But, the thing that makes it a great song are the lyrics. Fantastic imagery to capture universal emotions. ambeR and Adam won 1st place in the 2006 International Songwriting Competition for this song! It was the first song they ever wrote together.

Alex said that he was playing it because it’s one of the songs that inspired him to pursue singer/songwriter as a career! ambeR was supposed to sing a song that she co-wrote with Alex earlier in the set, but she didn’t make it to Rockwood in time. At least she was there to hear Alex heap some mighty praise on her for being his inspiration!

Alex just killed Washing Day. Of course, his voice is perfect for the song. But, he also shone on the guitar, which is a non-stop finger-picking extravaganza. I was incredibly impressed all around, independent of the fact that I love the song.

AlexBergerGuitar

Right before playing it, Alex gave us a shout out, mentioning that we changed our plans to attend the show. Thanks Alex, it was more than just worth it, it was an evening we’ll never forget. We miss you already. Move to our (frigid) city soon!!! Smile

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. 🙁

AlexWongHelpIsOnTheWay

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!

WardWilliamsGuitar WardWilliamsCello

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

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… 😉

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. 🙂

AdamLevyAlexWongTuning

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.

AdamLevy

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.

TonyMason

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.

JonathanMaron

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.

Vienna Teng and The Paper Raincoat at Attucks

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Vienna Teng and The Paper Raincoat are up there among our favorite performers, both live and their CDs. Recently, Vienna announced that she’s taking a break from touring and returning to school this fall.

While I’m sure that The Paper Raincoat (TPR) will continue to perform (in fact, we have tickets to see them on May 6th a Mercury Lounge in NYC), both Alex Wong and ambeR Rubarth have so much going on individually and with other projects that they don’t play together all that regularly.

So, having a chance to see both acts perform on the same stage on the same night was going to be hard to pass up. They played last night at The Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, VA.

We wouldn’t likely have gone from NYC, but luckily, we were a little closer, in Fredericksburg, VA. Still 2.5 hours away, but that’s a walk in the park for us.

I’ve written about Vienna and TPR many times. You can search for either on the top right of this page if you want to see how consistently amazing both are.

Last night Vienna was the headliner, so I’ll cover her performance first. Vienna performed one song solo, standing at ambeR Rubarth’s electronic keyboards. That was the first time we’ve seen her stand and play the keyboards. She also performed one song with ambeR Rubarth alone, a new song they co-wrote on a writers retreat in January. Gorgeous!

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For all of her other numbers, Vienna was accompanied by Alex Wong and Ward Williams. I can never say enough about Alex, and he was as wonderful again last night as he always is.

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We’ve seen Ward Williams briefly, twice before. Last night he was on stage for the entire TPR set, and for all but the two songs mentioned above with Vienna. He’s a delight as a musician (cello and electric guitar) and as a personality with a humorous on-stage presence.

WardWilliamsCello WardWilliamsGuitar

Reconstructing the set list from memory (a few of Vienna’s fans have asked me to do this whenever I see her):

Whatever You Want, Blue Caravan, Gravity, Kansas (solo), In Another Life, Stray Italian Greyhound, Everything’s Fine (with ambeR), Homecoming, Antebellum, Augustine, The Last Snowfall, St. Stephen’s Cross, Harbor, Grandmother Song, Keep The Customer Satisfied (Simon and Garfunkel cover)

It was a 90-minute set, capped off with Grandmother Song. For the first time in our experience, Vienna suggested that the audience might want to stand (in order to better participate) during the song. I was impressed at how fast everyone stood up. The energy was incredible.

They came out for an encore (no one sat down after Grandmother song, so it was a standing ovation) and played a wonderful version of Keep The Customer Satisfied, a Simon and Garfunkel cover.

The Paper Raincoat opened the show (which surprisingly, started 15 minutes earlier than announced). Everything about the performance last night was different (still awesome) because for the first time in our experience, TPR had no full-time drummer.

ThePaperRaincoat1

Instead, Ward Williams joined them mostly on the cello. Alex multi-tasked more than usual (which is saying a lot!) because he did play some percussion, which he rarely does for a TPR show.

I would describe the difference as mellowing out their sound quite a bit. It was gorgeous, and the crowd loved every note, but it didn’t have the feel of a typical TPR show.

ambeRRubarthGuitar

They closed the show with the always crowd-pleasing Rewind, this time joined by Vienna Teng (where Adam Christgau or Kevin Rice typically are). The crowd went nuts and shot to their feet at the end of the song, sending TPR off the stage to a roaring standing ovation.

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This was the last show in this year’s Discovery Series at The Attucks Theatre. Most of the people in the audience were unfamiliar with either Vienna or TPR, and I would say that it was one of the better audiences we’ve been part of, and both picked up hundreds of new fans. There was brisk business at the Merch table selling CDs, and all four artists came out to meet, greet and sign the CDs.

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ambeRRubarth WardWilliams

I already mentioned that we drove 2.5 hours to see the show. What I didn’t mention is that I caught a horrible cold a day or two earlier, and we were very close to not making the effort. Our original intention was to drive the 2.5 hours back after the show, but given my condition, our compromise was to stay in Norfolk for the night.

We got to our hotel at 3pm and I napped for a couple of hours. After saying hello/goodbye to the artists, we headed back to the hotel for the night, returning to Fredericksburg this morning. More than worth it, even though my condition hasn’t improved one iota…

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong at Joe’s Pub

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We got the briefest taste of Vienna Teng a few months ago when she was a guest performer at ambeR Rubarth’s CD Release Party, also at Joe’s Pub. The minute Vienna announced last night’s show we grabbed tickets (more on that later).

Alex Wong is well-known to us and I’ve written about him a number of times already (most often for his work in The Paper Raincoat).

Since this will likely get long (Hadar, do you ever write anything short and sweet?), I’ll spare those of you with little patience and give you the bottom line:

Vienna Teng is now officially on our stalkerazi list!

English translation: we will be following her around and trying to attend as many shows as possible. We’ll also be buying the rest of her CDs (we only own the most recent one, Inland Territory, which is awesome!).

Vienna is an all-around talent that can mesmerize on any individual level. Her piano playing is among the best we’ve seen live. If that’s all she did, we would still go see her often.

ViennaTengPiano

Her voice? Extraordinary! Clarity, range, power, emotional conveyance, variety, the works! If she sang a capella all night, we would still go see her often.

ViennaTengSinging

Songwriting? Exceptional! Deep, thoughtful lyrics. Wide range of topics. If she wasn’t a great musician, and didn’t sing so beautifully, we would still go to see her often for the quality of her songwriting.

Stage Presence? Wonderful! Vienna is warm and engaging, and comes across as natural as you could want from a performer. Her banter with Alex is excellent as well. She’s a natural story-teller. If all she did was tell stories, we would still go to see her often.

She’s working hard to master the guitar. I have little doubt that when she feels ready to perform in public, we’ll feel as graced as we do by her piano playing.

She’s beautiful too (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). 😉

Alex Wong is master of all music. He does a bit of everything as part of The Paper Raincoat (guitar, percussion, glockenspiel, keyboards, vocals, songwriting), so it would have been hard for him to surprise us last night.

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When he plays with Vienna, he’s mostly a percussionist/drummer (superb), though he did play the guitar on at least two numbers. Of course, he sings beautiful harmonies with Vienna, but he takes more of a back seat than he does with ambeR and The Paper Raincoat.

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Ward Williams joined them for three songs, playing both cello and electric guitar (singing on one of those numbers).

Kevin Rice joined during the encore to play a snare drum, making for two drummers on the one song. It was a great sound. After the show, Alex told me that Kevin was the original drummer with The Paper Raincoat.

While there were never more than three people on the stage at the same time, they create a much larger sound. Both Vienna and Alex, independently, use loop machines to do that.

In the very first song, after Vienna sang one verse, she looped her voice back and sang stunning harmony with herself! Alex did similar things with the drums, laying down an intricate beat, then looping it and playing/dancing in and around that beat. Vienna also did that with the piano on occasion, altering it to a more electronica type sound, then accompanying that with a normal piano sound which she played live. Excellent, all around.

Last night was one of four shows that will be used to create a new Live CD. We can’t wait to buy it. 🙂

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That’s the end of what I have to say about the show, but nowhere near the end of what I have to say about the evening. So, take another sip of coffee, take a deep breath, and settle in for the more personal aspects that made for a special evening last night. 🙂

I’ve written a couple of times about our serendipitous discovery of The Paper Raincoat (originally covered here). That started a chain of events which has caused us to discover a number of amazing NY-based musicians, a few of whom have become friends in addition to people we enjoy seeing perform.

We can now safely add Vienna as one such musician/performer, and hopefully, after stalking her a bit more, a friend too. 😉

The glue in this new chain is a superb singer/songwriter/keyboard player in his own right, Alex Berger. I connected with him when he put up a video of ambeR, Alex Wong and Vienna performing In the Creases at Joe’s Pub (that first time we saw Vienna). I started following Alex on Twitter (@bergeralex) and the rest is history.

AlexBerger

Through Alex, we discovered a dozen artists that we really like. One of them is the incredibly talented Amy Rivard. We invited Amy, along with two other friends (both of whom are Broadway musicians) to join us for the show last night, and the five of us had a wonderful time (and a wonderful meal) together.

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Amy was kind enough to agree to sing on my Tonight Show Tribute song/video collaboration with another amazing keyboardist, Ben Schwartz. Here’s a link to the YouTube Video.

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Alex Berger was at the show last night as well, and we were really happy to catch up with him afterward. Run and pre-order his upcoming CD (we are honored to have been the first people to pre-order). The brilliant Alex Wong produced Alex Berger’s CD!

Looping back to my comment about buying tickets for this show, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs talking about the difficulty and opportunities in the music business, using last night’s show as the spark and one specific example.

The best part of the current situation in the music world is that anyone (literally) can get heard. You can make reasonable quality recordings pretty cheaply and even get your music distributed for free. For more money (and time), but still much less than in the past, you can produce stunning quality recordings.

The worst part of the current situation is that while you can get your stuff out there, how do you build an audience to listen to it, let alone even find it. The signal-to-noise ratio is very low.

Obviously, not all (or even most) of the people who would like to make a living as musicians deserve to. But, the number who deserve to is still staggeringly large compared to the number who actually achieve that.

If you have major talent, the only reliable way to grind out a living (and it’s a huge grind, no matter how much you enjoy performing) is to tour a ton. It’s important to be creative, both to build a loyal following and to maximize their financial support toward your livelihood.

This is another area where The Paper Raincoat (and ambeR individually) and Vienna Teng have impressed us (and therefore have gotten our additional financial support).

In the case of ambeR’s new CD and The Paper Raincoat’s new CD (both superb efforts!), they offered multiple levels of pre-ordering, with each level delivering something additional and special to thank you for your patronage. It wasn’t just stuff (which would have been good enough), but generally had a creative flair, a personal touch, or something otherwise special as well.

I’ve posted photos in a previous entry, but in ambeR’s case, she hand-made boxes to house the pre-ordered CDs. The Paper Raincoat (at the highest level), included T-Shirts, Posters and a 4GB USB bracelet. The USB device had 330MB of goodies on it. Videos from a live show, a video thank you and a video of a practical joke.

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More amazingly (to me) was their inclusion of all of the songs on the CD as instrumentals. For those of us who love to sing along to their songs, we can do so without being distracted by them! Can you say Karaoke Party? 😉

Both Paper Raincoat and ambeR sent download links to the full CD the minute it was available, to anyone who pre-ordered. That put their music in the fans hands long before the physical CD packaging was done and available. Again, a very classy touch!

All three (ambeR, The Paper Raincoat and Vienna Teng) have used the amazing artist Diana Ho to produce artwork (for the posters and/or CD covers).

So, what did Vienna do last night to give more value, and get rewarded for it (both in loyalty and in dollars)? She offered a VIP package for the late show (she played two sets at Joe’s Pub last night).

The VIP package included a bunch of goodies, but I think the real hook was a private dessert and coffee get-together with Vienna and Alex after the show. Only 30 VIP tickets were offered. We grabbed two the second we saw Vienna’s Tweet (another reason to follow the artists you like!). The next morning, all 30 VIP packages were sold out!

Here are their Twitter addresses:

@viennateng (obvious)

@highceilings (not as obvious, Alex Wong)

@ambeRRubarth (obvious)

@paper_raincoat (you get it by now…)

After the show, we hung around and talked to a bunch of people.

AmyCoxViennasManager JordanBurgerViennasBookingAgent

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We even got to play Roadies a bit, carrying out some equipment to their van after the schmoozing was done. But in a surprise to all involved (Lois and I included), we realized that it would be imprudent to push the night as late as we had the night before, so we ended up not joining the after-show festivities.

Did we feel cheated? Did we feel like we over-spent on the VIP package? Not even for a second! We were thrilled to have supported Vienna and Alex, and to have had the choice to go if we hadn’t been so tired.

We spent today listening to Vienna’s music. The CD we own, her website (which has a button to play Radio VT on the home page), and listening to some live shows in the Internet Archive site. We loved every second of it. 🙂

P.S. As if I needed any additional reason to want to hang out with Vienna, but she appeals to the geek in me as well. She worked as a programmer at Cisco for two years before turning to a career in music. So, I could find things to talk about with her beyond our current obsession with live music…