February 2004 back
Raul Midon, Ollabelle, Mary Fahl, Jennifer Glass & Gloria Reuben: Feb 23 at The Cutting Room
I'm on quite a few e-mail lists for artists I follow and venues I frequent. Last week I received one from Raul Midon saying he was playing a benefit for City at Peace. Also on the bill was my new favorite band "Ollabelle" and Mary Fahl, the former lead singer of October Project, a band I loved. The only way I wouldn't go to this show was if it was a fund raiser for George Bush!
I immediately called Elin Morgan, Managing Director of City at Peace, to order tickets. We had a brief but very nice chat about what a great lineup she had for the show and she said to make sure I introduced myself to her the night of the show.
I knew Gloria Reuben from her role on the TV show ER, but I had no idea who Jennifer Glass might be. I found her web site and listened to a few songs which were basically danceable club music like Tiffany meets Brittany Spears. I thought "That's not such a good match to these other artists". Well, that was a different Jennifer Glass. This Jennifer Glass is a country rock singer/songwriter who the program described as a love child of Sheryl Crowe and Faith Hill. Looks wise and style wise it's a good comparison but Sheryl Crowe wishes she had a voice like Jennifer Glass. (and I like Sheryl Crow) When she started to sing, Judy and I gave each other the "holy sh*t" look. If I'm not mistaken, I believe she did a Randy Newman song and a couple of originals. After the show, I told Jennifer about my internet mistake and she laughed and said she and the other Jennifer know each other now because they get each others fan mail. I told her I was glad that we got to hear this Jennifer. I can say with no doubt that we'll be seeing her again.
If you've been keeping tabs of my activities then you know impressed I am with Raul Midon and Ollabelle. Raul is a singer/songwriter/guitarist of extraordinary talent. His singing is soulful R&B, pop and jazz and his guitar playing is very jazzy with a lot of rhythmic pounding which reminds me of flamenco. I think it's safe to say he made "believers" out of everyone there. We had a nice long chat with Raul and his wife, Kathleen. He's written a song that will be in the next Spike Lee movie and they're still working out final details on a record contract, which hopefully will have him back in the studio soon.
Ollabelle is my most recent delightful discovery. (well, Jennifer Glass is now most recent by two weeks) They're an American roots band (gospel and country blues) who knocked my socks off for the second time in as many weeks. Ollabelle is Byron Isaacs on bass, Tony Leone on drums, Glenn Patscha on keyboards, Jimi Zhivago on guitars, Fiona McBain on acoustic guitar and Amy Helm, as well as the other five, on vocals. (that's the listing on the web site but there was also someone named Shawn on guitars at this show) Their self-titled album should be in stores in March. I picked up a copy at the show and it is an outstanding piece of work! Highly recommended! They were also the hardest working act of the night, playing house band for all the acts except Raul.
Mary Fahl's music would fall somewhere in the neighborhood where Annie Haslem of Rennaissance, Enya and Linda Thompson reside, although I would say her style is distinctive and her voice a little deeper and richer. (You could go to www.towerrecords.com and listen) She performed three original tunes, an "ancient middle eastern" sounding tune and gave us a treat by covering Richard Thompson's "Dimming of the Day". Judy said "Now I remember how much I've missed October Project". We also picked up her album "The Other Side of Time" which I haven't listened to yet. After the show we had a nice chat with her and and found out she's as big a dog lover as us. She melted when I showed her pictures of our pooches. (see beautiful girls)
Gloria Reuben did a Sheryl Crowe tune, Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and an original tune. She was obviously not as comfortable in front of the microphone as everyone else (they all seemed to have been born with microphones) but if she sticks with it, that will certainly improve.
I must also add how impressed I was with the City at Peace organization. It's a year long program where they use the performing arts as a process to teach teenagers how to build relationships and solve conflicts without violence. Some of the kids were at the show and even did some "spoken word" performances between sets. (they all did a good job, I particularly liked one titled "Martyr") Worldwide their kids have written and produced 32 original musicals. Judy and I chatted with several of the kids, who approached to us to talk, and found them all polite, mature and very charming. They were all very proud of what they've accomplished in this program. Their new musical "reVisions" will be performed in April at John Jay College. For more info check www.cpnational.org/ny
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo : Feb 21 State Theatre N Brunswick NJ
You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of the imagination. Next stop; The Trock zone. -Rod Serling-
Can you imagine a ballet company where a 5'-3" male dancer must partner a 6'-2" ballerina, one dancer kicks another for getting in the way, or a 110 pound dancer tries to lift a 150 pound ballerina and drops her on her head? If you can, then you're starting to get the idea of Les Trocks. With names like Ida Nevasayneva and Collette Adea, this all male dance company dances the female roles in drag to the great amusement of the audience. What makes the whole thing work is that they're good dancers. Some of what they do is eye popping. (dance wise and otherwise)
You could make the comparison that they're the Harlem Globetrotters of dance. The globetrotters are good basketball players who are really funny. It's not quite like seeing Michael Jordan (or Mikhail Baryshnikov) but it sure is a good time.
Rufus Wainwright : Feb 13th at the Beacon
I can't say enough about how talented this guy is. His musical influences are many but his songs could best be summed up as quirky, off-beat pop songs. But don't let that throw you. The vocals are extremely demanding and emotionally powerful. He actually opened the show with an aria called "L'Absence", from "Les Nuits d'Ete" by Berlioz, which he performed beautifully despite the fact that at one point he forgot a word and said "f#*k" to which he added "Berlioz didn't write that part". L'Absence segued into his own song "14th Street" which really worked well. Several of his songs, especially "Vibrate", could be mistaken for arias if he sang them in Italian. Of course, with lyrics like "My phone's on vibrate for you" you can assume it's not Puccini.
After a few songs on piano, he moved to acoustic guitar and said "for the last two weeks I should have been thinking about this big gig at the Beacon or the big interview I had to do, but all I could think of is I don't have a Valentine". The entire show was peppered with personal and often amusing remarks.
He used just about every combination from solo to six piece backing band to achieve the sublime or the grand. One of his backup singers was Shannon McNally, a very talented country singer/songwriter/musician whom I've seen before and liked very much. The other was Joan Wasser, an equally talented multi-instrumentalist with a great voice. Joan was the opening act tonight and did a nice job although, except for two songs, her original material didn't reach me. She may have been more effective in a smaller venue. On other nights, Shannon has opened. (Rufus seems very generous in that way)
Another surprise was a second opening act, "Kiki and Herb", who've been regulars in the downtown music and theatre scene for the last few years. Kiki is a drag queen (and drama queen) who's actually a really good singer. With Herb on piano, they opened their three song set with "Why" by Annie Lennox and finished with "Total Eclipse of the Heart" which brought the house down. Great schtick but musically enjoyable. The audience howled. Later Rufus brought Kiki out for a duet on "Greek Song" which was so good that Herb better be careful that Rufus doesn't recruit Kiki for his show.
Rufus performed mostly songs from his recent release "Want One" with a few from his previous "Poses" and his self titled debut album. Also included were a couple from his not yet released "Want Two" and a moving rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". The encore included "Oh What a World" with Rufus and the band dressed like the Wicked Witch of the West and melting at the end of the song. He finished with an unreleased song "Liberty Cabbage" which he introduced by saying that the most important thing in the world right now is to get rid of George Bush. The audience roared it's approval. (the handsome young couple in front of us did not seem amused) Just when we thought it was time to go, he slipped back out with his sister, Martha, and sang "Nuits de Miami". A tasty little dessert.
Before the show we went to Big Nicks, a little neighborhood joint two blocks up from the Beacon. One of the best hamburgers in NYC. Then, when we arrived at the theatre, we had a lovely chat with Julianne Welby from WFUV and her friend whose name we didn't get. On the ride home I told Judy that the only thing that could have made the evening any better would have been if the backup vocals were a little bit louder and if we had been sitting next to Julia Roberts. :-)
The Holmes Brothers (w/ Ollabelle opening) : Feb 12th at Joe's Pub
I had already been thinking of seeing The Holmes Brothers when I logged on to the WFUV bulletin board and read a post by a young musician named Greg who was singing the praises of Ollabelle. His post included a link to his review of a show he had seen. His review so piqued my curiosity that I logged off and called ticketweb immediately. I'm glad I did.
Ollabelle is fronted by Amy Helm on vocals and Austrailian Fiona McBain on acoustic guitar and vocals. Both are extremely impressive vocalists. The band also includes guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. (I'll tell you their names next time, I'll definitely be seeing them again) The guys all sang really well too doing great harmonies and singing lead vocals on several songs. The assortment of lead vocalists made for a very diverse experience. I especially liked their version of The Rolling Stones "I Am Waiting". (although, there was nothing I didn't like)
They played country blues and gospel (or American roots music) which was a perfect compliment to The Holmes Brothers. How good were they? I was sitting next to The Holmes Brothers during their set and heard several Wows! Yeahs! and assorted yelps of joy. I highly recommend these guys and, apparently, so do The Holmes Brothers.
The Holmes Brothers are the real deal. Back in "the day" they were the house band at The Apollo Theatre and played with everyone. Wendell on guitar, Sherman on bass and Pops Dixon on drums put on a show that is impossible not to enjoy. Great vocal harmonies and really great song selections. Their new album "Simple Truths" will be hard to knock off my ten best list for 2004..
Also an American roots band they opened with a bluesy version of "Amazing Grace" which had the house rockin'. They also did really soulful versions of The Beatles "And I Love Her", like you've never imagined it, and Gillian Welch's "Everything is Free". The set also included some original material and some standards like "Big Boss Man".
After the show, Judy took a moment to chat with Wendell and Pops just to thank them for a wonderful evening.
Chinese Folk Dance Company : Feb 5th at The Winter Garden
Founded in 1973, this company is in residence at the Chinese Cultural Center in Chinatown, NYC and tours the country regularly. Their repertoire includes traditional and contemporary folk and classical dances including excerpts from Peking Opera. The program for this performance described them as "Noted for their powerful grace and contained elegance". I think that's a good description. It's almost always colorful and usually beautiful but at times can seem very contained. Granted, it comes from a totally different sensibility and might take some getting used to for fans of western dance, but if you open yourself to a different type of dance experience it can be very enjoyable.
I had seen them last fall and two pieces that I enjoyed immensely were not on this program. One involved a stage full of dancers, armed with swords, doing a fight scene that could rival the best Hollywood has to offer. (Or Bejing) It was very athletic and energetic. Tonight's program had nothing on that level of excitement.
The other was a piece where the girls all had silk dresses with sleeves that were ten feet long. Throughout the piece they thru the sleeves out and snapped them back to create a visually beautiful effect. This program did have some numbers involving waving yards of silk. "Flying Apsaras", a duet performed with rainbow silk banners, is based on a painting of Buddhist deities and "Red Ribbons" a popular folk dance where the dancers wave yards of bright silk in a series of circles, swirls, and corkscrews.
A colorful and charming performance even if not as exciting as I had hoped.