Workplay

Girlyman at Workplay

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Earlier in the week I said we’d finish off our Birmingham trip with a surprise. Seeing Girlyman perform at Workplay on Sunday night topped off an already incredible week of family, friends and fun (henceforth known as the 3 F’s). Smile

Anyone who has read more than a few of my posts knows how I feel about Girlyman. For the rest of you, here’s a brief summary. I tend to rank music (in my mind) in terms of whether I could listen to it over and over, forever, if I were stuck on a deserted island with nothing but that band’s music (and, I guess, some form of electricity, solar would probably be abundant).

There are at least 100 bands that I could be happy listening to over and over, with no other music to fill the rotation. That speaks to my general love of music, and the fact that there is so much great music to be enjoyed in the world. But, if I got to choose in advance which music to be stuck with forever, I would not hesitate to pick Girlyman. That answer hasn’t changed since the day I discovered them in August 2007.

Girlyman just completed their first UK tour a couple of weeks back. Nate returned home two weeks ago, but the girls made a week of it in Paris and returned early last week. Unfortunately, Doris brought back a European cold with her. She was worried whether her voice would hold out. Thankfully, it did, extremely well!

They opened with EZ Bake Ovens (a number of my friends count that as their favorite Girlyman song!). Nate sings a verse solo, then Ty, then Doris. When it came to Doris, she whispered the first line or two. Uh oh, I thought that she had lost her voice completely!

Fortunately, the sound engineer just had her mic off (or too soft). He noticed the problem and with a very loud crack (like someone plugging in an electric guitar), Doris’ voice came alive. It wasn’t her normal voice, but it was pretty cool (and really good) nonetheless. It wasn’t quite nasal, a bit more chesty and rounded off. Perfectly in tune. She wisely controlled the volume, not quite belting out the rage in Storms Were Mine.

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The set list was superb! Of course they didn’t play some songs I wanted to hear, but they didn’t play a single song that I didn’t want to hear either. What’s a fan to do? Winking smile In fact, in Girlyman’s large catalog, there is only a single song that I find boring. Lois is the only one who knows which it is. She also happens to disagree with me on that one. Smile

We were treated to some UK road trip banter. We now all know why they use 220v over there. You’ll have to attend an upcoming show to find out for yourself. Winking smile Speaking of banter, Nate and the gals did a fantastic tuning song to More Than Words by Extreme. When they were asking for requests, after hearing more than 20 different titles, someone yelled out Do More Than One. So, More Than One was born, to the tune of More Than Words. Excellent!

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There are always a few surprises at a Girlyman show. This one had them inviting the audience to sing the chorus of Postcards From Mexico (three separate parts) with them. Depending on our vocal range, we were singing with Nate, Ty or Doris. I sing out loud in the car to every one of their songs, so getting to sing out loud with them was a hoot. The guy to my left had a great voice. He harmonized (a fourth part!) with them at the song’s crescendo. Bravo!

Ty debuted a new song (likely called The Person You Want Me to Be). Absolutely gorgeous. After the show, I went over to her to tell her how much I loved it. In the car ride home, Lois bugged me many times asking me how she could get her hands on a recording of the song.

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Ask and ye shall receive! I just got a Google Alert on Girlyman with a link to a YouTube video of that song, played the night before we saw them, at Eddie’s Attic, in Decatur, GA. Thanks Donna, you made Lois’ day and my life got simpler at the same time. Smile

The Person You Want Me To Be

JJ is an excellent drummer, always. One of the things that makes her excellent is always playing the appropriate accompaniment to a given piece. Since many of Girlyman’s songs are very mellow, JJ is correctly understated in most of her drumming with the band. Then, they sneak in Young James Dean and JJ lets loose. Fabulous, each and every time. The second the song is over, rather than enjoying the accolades the crowd is giving Ty (and Girlyman in general), Ty immediately turns to JJ and points out how amazing she is during that number. I couldn’t agree more! Smile

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As exhausted as they were and as sick as Doris was, they put on a terrific show. For those of you who are keeping track, Sunday night was our 16th Girlyman show. We have tickets to see them at City Winery (with the amazing Red Molly co-billed) on November 17th.

This blog is appearing 24 hours later than normal. We hit the road at 7am Birmingham time yesterday intending to stop in Northern VA for the night (at which point I might have blogged). Instead, we pushed on (like the whimsical people that we are), through torrential rainstorms in PA, making it back to NYC at 11:30pm. Only 15.5 hours in the car. No big deal…

We had invited a number of people to join us for the show. We ended up only purchasing four tickets, for our godson (David), his fiancée (Rebecca) and us. We were given another special surprise when Rebecca’s parents, one of her brothers and his girlfriend also purchased tickets and joined us (the eight of us dominated the front row!).

The brother and his girlfriend had to run out when the show ended (the life of students with papers due). The rest of us hung around to say hello to the band (always a treat).

Before the show, the eight of us dined at Silvertron Café. I heeded the advice of the locals and got the mini-steak sandwiches. Wow! We all had a great meal, putting us in the perfect mood to enjoy a great show. Can’t wait to do it again! Smile

Joey Ryan and Matt Hires at Workplay

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We visit Birmingham, AL at least twice a year. We were planning to arrive late last night. A week earlier, I noticed a tweet by Joey Ryan that he was touring the South opening for Matt Hires. After a quick consultation with Lois, we changed our plans to arrive much earlier in the day, in order to see them at Workplay (a place where we saw Vienna Teng and Alex Wong open for Glen Phillips).

We came to visit our godson and his fiancée and we were glad (and lucky) that they were able to join us for the show.

Joey Ryan put on his typical (in the best sense!) show. If anything was a bit different, it was that his self-deprecating humor was highlighted a little more. He was dead on. When Joey asked the audience questions, often only one person answered. Even when the answer was whisper soft, Joey (and the rest of us) could hear it clearly. That gave him fodder for some very funny (and spontaneous) responses/comebacks.

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The sound system and engineer at Workplay were both excellent last night. Joey’s guitar and voice were crisp and the volume was just right. His set selection was wonderful and included both a new song (at least it was new to me!) and a Ray LaMontagne cover.

The audience wanted Joey to keep going, but after checking two different times with the sound engineer, Joey was forced to leave us hanging.

After the set, we headed to the lobby to say hi. We bought a copy of Joey’s CD and EP (both), got them signed by Joey, and gave them to David and Rebecca. They were both wiped. Anticipating that, we came in two cars, and after chatting with Joey for a few minutes, they headed home.

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We stayed to see Matt Hires and his band, having never heard of him before discovering that Joey was opening for him during the last leg of his six week tour.

We both liked Matt’s sound a lot. Very energetic numbers, catchy/hooky lyrics and melodies. Matt has an excellent voice and does a nice job on the guitar (he played both acoustic and electric). He played one number solo. In addition to playing his own material, he also played a Beatles cover: You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. Hard to go wrong with a Beatles cover, as long as you can deliver, and Matt and the band delivered. Smile

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Matt’s band, standing left-to-right on the stage:

Chris Miranda on lead electric guitar and harmony. Chris was superb on the guitar and did a terrific job singing with Matt as well. A quick search shows his name all over, including that he played lead guitar for Kate Voegele among others.

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Bob Matthews on drums. Bob did a very nice job throughout the set, including coming up to the mic for You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, playing a tambourine and shaker, finishing it off with a Melodica!

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Aaron Bishop on electric bass and background vocals. A solid job on both!

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In addition to Chris playing with Kate Voegele, so did Bob and Aaron, so Matt hooked up with a ready-made band. Good choice, as the chemistry and talent were already a proven commodity.

If you want to hear a teeny tiny flavor of Chris’ smoothness on the guitar, you can watch this YouTube video of Matt introducing the band. It’s from 10 days ago, but it’s exactly how he introduced them last night.

When Matt’s set was over, we went out and bought his new EP, A TO B. It’s only four songs long, with two being different versions of the same song. Still, it’s very good. Both the title cut (A TO B) and both versions of Honey, Let Me Sing You a Song are wonderful productions. It’s $2.99 to download on iTunes.

We said a very quick goodbye to Joey and headed back to the hotel. What a great way to start off the week in Birmingham. We have a fabulous way to end it as well, but you’ll have to wait to read about that until we’re headed home. Smile

Vienna Teng, Alex Wong and Glen Phillips at Workplay

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This post is a day late because we didn’t complete the trifecta and follow Vienna Teng and Alex Wong to Louisiana. Instead, we kept our word and drove home from Birmingham, AL, a trip that took a day and a half of driving.

On Thursday, we drove from Atlanta to Birmingham to catch Vienna and Alex (along with Glen Phillips) for the second night in a row, this time at Workplay. In addition to not wanting to miss another opportunity to see Vienna and Alex, we really wanted to introduce David and Rebecca to their music, and David told me that Workplay was a great venue. He was right, Workplay is highly recommended!

I don’t know whether the artists that we surprise in strange places like being surprised (or care either way). All I know is that we amuse ourselves and get a kick out of showing up in unexpected places to see our favorite performers. For a second night in a row, our surprise was sprung earlier than expected. While we were sitting in the bar area waiting for the doors to open, Alex Wong wandered out to get something, and we were busted. 🙂

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Workplay is a much smaller venue than Variety Playhouse (at least on the Theater side, which is where this show was held). This alone would have made the experience different from the night before. Of course, road warrior artists find other ways to keep each night fresh.

There were a few substitutions from the previous night’s set list. Even for songs that were repeated (thankfully, because we promise not to tire of hearing them if Vienna promises to keep performing them!), different ones were introduced with stories than from the night before, and in one case, a totally different story was told (consistent with the night before).

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Vienna and Alex were a little more chatty (and funny) early on as well, which is always welcome. Glen joined them for one number, playing guitar but not singing. He didn’t join them in Atlanta.

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They played for 70 minutes with no encore. This was a few minutes longer than the night before, including the encore. They created a new set of fans, including David and Rebecca. The guy who sat in front of me became a fan as well (he was there to see Glen). He bought Inland Territory after the show and Vienna and Alex signed it for him. 🙂

Lois asked me to include the following thoughts from her (consider it a guest blog):

Vienna Teng is the epitome of grace and generosity. She’s a brilliant songwriter who paints the human condition via her great and diverse musical creations. Being in her presence is humbling and inspiring.

Her voice is pure and strong. Her lyrics capture deep emotions, often making you joyful and even toe-tapping to her strong rhythms and playful themes.

You’d imagine there were triplets on that stage as she effortlessly gives us her takes on life with classical – folk – jazz – country (and more) overtones in her songs. It’s extraordinary to hear her go from ‘Augustine’ to ‘Stray Italian Greyhound’ to ‘Grandmother’s Song’ and realize it’s the same Vienna writing and performing vastly different numbers.

She’s a hero to many – and it’s clear to Hadar and I why this is so: She is to us as well. We’ll continue crisscrossing the country to keep up with her. 🙂

We saw her twice on our recent journey south with the also-incomparable Alex Wong. Individually they amaze. Together they create sheer musical bliss for their audiences! We are grateful they do what they do – and that they share their magic with the rest of us!

Glen Phillips also mixed up his set a bit and changed his banter as well. He told a few stories he hadn’t the night before. He continues to impress me as a solo performer, and the audience once again was way more familiar with his songs than we are/were (though we’re starting to catch up).

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In Atlanta, Vienna joined Glen for one song and then again for his encore. In Birmingham, Vienna joined Glen for three consecutive songs during his set, and Glen performed his encore solo.

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We had a fantastic time and hung around to say hi after the show even though we were exhausted.

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Here is the set list reconstructed from memory (now two days late), and not presented in order (other than the opening and closing numbers). I am sure that I left out a few songs, and I apologize for that. I guess I was too busy enjoying the show to note each number:

  • Whatever You Want
  • Gravity
  • The Tower
  • Harbor
  • Stray Italian Greyhound
  • In the Creases (Alex sang lead and played the guitar beautifully. He also dedicated the song to two audience members who traveled far to see them. I assume he meant us!) 🙂
  • 1 Br / 1 Ba (1 Bedroom / 1 Bath)
  • The Last Snowfall (Vienna had trouble with the buttons on the looping machine, and she started the song three times. I love that she’s a pro, and didn’t just muddle through it, wanting to give the crowd the best experience. She did! Bravo!)
  • Augustine
  • No Gringo
  • Antebellum
  • Grandmother Song

Just to repeat, I’m sure about the above, but I likely dropped a few inadvertently.

We’re so happy to be home it’s hard to describe. That said, there’s no way that coming home two days earlier and missing these two shows would have been worth it. If only we were going on the Cayamo Cruise starting tomorrow, we could try and get our fill of Vienna and Alex (unsuccessfully, of course!)… 🙂

Vienna Teng, Alex Wong and Glen Phillips at Variety Playhouse

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We are huge fans of Vienna Teng and Alex Wong. I’ve written about them together and separately many times. You can read the original one about the two of them together here.

We were in Florida visiting my folks for the past few days and heading back to NY yesterday. When planning the trip, we noticed that Vienna and Alex were a week behind us (we were in Birmingham before FL, and got there by driving through Atlanta, and they were playing those two cities on consecutive nights).

In making our plans, we decided to surprise them, and give ourselves a huge gift in the process, and make a wide detour in returning to NY, going through Atlanta instead of up I95. If you read the post linked to above, then you’ll realize that this behavior is consistent with my announcement that we are officially stalking Vienna (we were already stalking Alex Wong and The Paper Raincoat!). 🙂

The surprise didn’t last long, as Alex spotted us from the lobby while we were waiting outside for the doors to open. He took a photo of us through the box office window.

We had never been to Variety Playhouse before. While it’s an old place, that could stand some refurbishing, it’s a fantastic place to see a show (meaning, while the look could be refreshed, everything else is top-notch!). The sound system was excellent and everyone who works there was as nice as you could hope for. It’s a huge place as well. Kudos to Vienna, Alex and Glen for filling as many seats as they did on a frigid Wednesday.

In addition to being a large crowd, it was one of the best audiences we’ve been part of as well, which is quite unusual in a place this big. Pin-drop quiet during the songs, crazy loud and long applause between songs. Singing when we’re instructed to, laughing when appropriate, etc. Glen Phillips has a very large following (more on him later), and I believe that a lot of his fans are now squarely Vienna and Alex fans too, and vice versa.

Vienna and Alex played a mesmerizing one-hour set (they came out at 8:20pm). After singing Homecoming (one of the many songs we constantly sing out loud in our car) Vienna gave us a shout-out, mentioning that she was disoriented seeing us, and thinking she wasn’t where she thought she was. 🙂

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She performed many of our favorites, including The Last Snowfall, Antebellum, Harbor, Whatever You Want, Grandmother Song, etc. (I could tell you every song, because we also snagged the hand-written set list, on a napkin, but that’s beside the point).

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Like I mentioned above, I’m sure that a fair number of people were there for Glen Phillips, but I can assure you, that the roar was deafening for Vienna and Alex after each song, so people weren’t killing time waiting for the main act to come out.

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It’s unusual for an opening act (how can one consider Vienna and Alex to be an opening act?) to get an encore. But, the clapping didn’t slow down even after they were off stage for a full minute, so they came back out and did a one-song encore, a Radiohead cover.

It was well worth our detour to get to see them perform at this wonderful venue.

After a 20-minute intermission, Glen Phillips came out. We’ve seen Glen only once before, at City Winery, as part of WPA (Works Progress Administration), in a show that we went to see because Vienna and Alex were on the same bill that night as well. Here is my post about that show.

After that show, when I mentioned to a number of friends of mine that we saw Glen Phillips, I was surprised that every single one of them knew who he was. We obviously were living under a rock while he was making headlines. Ironically, we know the other two members of WPA very well.

Last night was Glen solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. As I mentioned in the previous post, he has a great voice (even more obvious when he’s alone on stage) and his guitar playing is tasty, making him a compelling solo performer.

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Since I don’t know his music, I can’t be sure how many of the songs were his, or were covers. Clearly, they are well known either way (just not to me), because people were clapping the second they heard three notes of lead-in guitar, on most songs. Giving him credit for most of them, the lyrics are often complex and interesting.

He too played for an hour, inviting Vienna to play a duet with him on one number. When he was roused back on stage for an encore, he came back out with Vienna and they closed the show together.

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We hung around afterward to say hello to all three (it was our first time meeting Glen). We also purchased Vienna’s DVD (one of the only items of hers we didn’t own), as well as another copy of Inland Territory (a stunning CD) and two copies of The Paper Raincoat CD to give as gifts.

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The three of them are playing in Birmingham, AL tonight at Workplay. If you’re in the neighborhood, and you don’t go to see them, shame on you!

Update: At the request of a commenter in another post about Vienna and Alex, I am posting the Set List for this show:

  1. Whatever You Want
  2. Gravity
  3. Antebellum
  4. No Gringo
  5. Homecoming
  6. In the Creases (listed but not played!)
  7. The Last Snowfall
  8. The Tower
  9. Stray Italian Greyhound
  10. Augustine
  11. I Don’t Feel So Well (I really don’t recall this being played…)
  12. Harbor
  13. Grandmother Song
  14. Idioteque (Radiohead cover from Kid A, played as an encore)