JUNE 2004            back

Aimee Mann : June 30th at Rockefeller Park

I was exhausted from last night's adventure, but I couldn't pass up a chance to see Aimee Mann for free. You might remember her from Voices Carry, one of her hits from the 80's with her pop band 'Til Tuesday or from Save Me her Oscar nominated song from the movie Magnolia. The fact is, she writes clever and witty lyrics (is clever and witty redundant?) with memorable melodies. Her melodies have been compared to the Beatles. She and her band sounded great and performed material from all her albums (Driving Sideways, Amateur, Save Me......)

She said she's been taking boxing lessons and imagines a tour with all the other artists who box. They include Bob Dylan, Harry Connick Jr, and P. Diddy among others. She said they could box a round between sets. She thinks she could beat Dylan because she's twenty years younger. She was funny. There is more but I'm so tired that I'll sum up by saying "Aimee Mann: Good.  Sleep deprivation: Bad"

 

                              

Blood on the Tracks Project : June 29th Merkin Concert Hall (Joan Osborne, Jesse Harris, Marc Anthony Thompson, Jen Chapin, Richard Barone, Vernon Reid....)

To celebrate the 30 year anniversary of Bob Dylan's "Blood On The Tracks", producer David Spelman brought in an extraordinary and diverse group of talented artists to perform the album from beginning to end. The show was broadcast live on WFUV and hosted by Darren DeVivo.  Between songs, Darren did some short interviews with some of the artists which was fun and prevented any down time.

A few highlights :

Citizen Cope - Simple Twist of Fate -

     His slow gentle version really pulled us in.

Ollabelle - You're a Big Girl Now  -

     Great! But if you follow my escapades, you already knew that.

Joan Osborne & John Leventhal - You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go       Her voice is in a class by itself. You know Joan's "What If God Was One of Us"

Marc Anthony Thompson (aka Chocolate Genius) & Ollabelle - Up To Me 

      From the sessions but not on the album. (His beautiful tailored suit worn with flip flops was a highlight for Judy)

Marc Anthony Thompson & Vernon Reid (Living Color) Meet Me In The Morning       These guys put some serious Delta into this Blues tune. Very cool.

Brandon Ross w/Stomu Takeishi - Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

       Brandon plays guitar and does arrangements for Cassandra Wilson. His version of this song reminded me of her. Simply beautiful.

Richard Barone - Shelter From the Storm

      His band included Tony Visconti who produces David Bowie, Buddy Cage who played pedal steel guitar on Blood on the Tracks, Julia Kent on cello & Vernon Reid. This Dylan meets The Bongos version was lots of fun

Jesse Harris - Buckets of Rain

      You know him from writing many of Norah Jones' songs including Don't Know Why

Toshi Reagon did a good job with Tangled Up in Blue, Jeffrey Gaines w/ Mary Lee Cortes did Idiot Wind (her dynamic performance somewhat overshadowed Jeffrey's subdued approach) and Jen Chapin (Harry's daughter) did her father proud with If You See Her, Say Hello. The evening also included Joel Harrison, Alex De Grasi, David Spelman and Kerryn Tolhurst playing an assortment of instrumentals. The show ended with everybody coming back out and performing a surprisingly beautiful version of I Shall Be Released. Surprising because jams often sound sloppy and unrehearsed but this was great.

We also ran into, and had a nice conversation with, singer songwriter Jennifer Glass, who is a regular at The Living Room. We've been wanting to see her again since being blown away by her in February. She's very talented and I predict you'll be hearing more about her in the future.

 

Lou Reed, The Holmes Brothers, and Nellie McKay : June 23rd at Carnegie Hall (JVC Jazz Fest)

As a member of WFUV, every thirty days I'm eligible to get a pair of free tickets for any one of a variety of shows. (see wfuv.org for details) It allows me to save money on shows that I would be going to anyway, or satisfy my curiosity about shows that I probably wouldn't have attended.

This show was the latter. I've always admired Lou Reed and I respect his position as an icon in the history of rock and roll, but I can't say that I've ever been a big fan. He'd be the first to tell you that he can't sing a lick. For those who don't know, Lou was one of the founding members of The Velvet Underground, an avant-garde group in the 60's who were produced by Andy Warhol and experimented with mixed media events, which included film, music and dancing. (and some extracurricular activities) Lou's early 70's hit "Walk on the Wild Side" is one of the most recognizable songs in the history of pop music. With two opening acts, both of whom I knew I'd like, it seemed reasonable to take a chance on this show. (not to mention it was Carnegie Hall!)

I have to start off by saying that I really enjoyed his set. His songs were surprisingly hypnotic and engaging and had some dissonance and rock moments sprinkled in to keep you on your toes.  As stated before, he can't really sing, but his songs don't challenge his range and he does a good job staying in key. (most of the time)

I'm not particularly familiar with the song titles of his solo work, but as near as I can determine, some of the songs performed were: Guardian Angel, Modern Dance, Shiny, Perfect Day, The Day JFK was Shot, and a selection from The Raven.  I believe it was during The Raven that his cellist, Jane Scarpantony, did a truly amazing solo which rocked the house. I imagined that during the creative process, Lou told her "Do a wild solo at this point". Then added "Wilder than that". Then one more time "Even wilder.... That's it". It was "out there" but the audience loved it. He also had Tai Chi master Ren Guang Yi doing movements at the front of the stage for this and two other songs. My sister Chris, who jumped at the chance for free tickets at Carnegie Hall, said she enjoyed his entire set except for one song called "You Talk Too Much". She added that she also enjoyed Nellie McKay and loved The Holmes Brothers.

The Holmes Brothers released their first album in 1989 although they've been playing professionally since the early 60's. Sherman and Wendell Holmes along with drummer Popsy Dixon are a three piece gospel, blues, country and pop band. They're talented musicians who all sing and harmonize beautifully. They opened with a Ray Charles tribute and also did a moving version of Amazing Grace. Also included was a cover of Gillian Welch's Everything Is Free and their original tune We Meet, We Part, We Remember from their recent album Simple Truths. These guys are great. Highly recommended.

Nellie McKay is a nineteen year old singer/songwriter/pianist who has been quite accurately described a cross between Eminem and Doris Day. When she sings straight faced and beautifully "I want to get married, that what I was born for" you can imagine Doris Day singing to Rock Hudson. She then turns around and plays a rock tune with "rap like" singing and you know she's very contemporary. She also has a wacky stage presence. At one point she said "Here's a song about one thing I know we all can agree upon  -  gay marriage". Her album title gives you a clue to her mind set. In response to Norah Jones "Come Away With Me", Nellie called her album "Get Away From Me". This was a good show. Thank you WFUV.

 

Ladysmith Black Mombazo and Vusi Mahlasela : June 19th at Prospect Park (Celebrate Brooklyn Festival)

This was a really nice evening on many levels. When we arrived in Brooklyn, Joseph and I stopped in a neighborhood bar called Johnny Mack's to grab a quick bite. (Judy and I had eaten there before and I remembered they had good burgers). We sat at the bar and got involved in a conversation with a young local guy named Oliver. When his table outside became available, he invited us to join him. The temperature was very comfortable, the streets were busy with people and the burgers were as good as I had remembered. We discovered that Oliver is a lawyer in the city but is an aspiring screenwriter in the process of fine tuning his first draft. With Joseph having recently finished his second screenplay, it goes without saying that we had lots to discuss. 

Afterwards, we walked a city block to the park and arrived two minutes before Vusi Mahlasela took the stage. Vusi is a South African singer/songwriter/musician who was an active voice in the anti-apartheid movement. His album from last year, The Voice, was one of my favorites. Back home, people refer to him as "the voice", and with good reason. His songs are melodic, his acoustic guitar playing is very impressive and his voice is moving. This was the second time I've seen him perform and I suspect it won't be the last.

Ladysmith Black Mombazo, an internationally known a cappella group also from South Africa, is probably best known as the vocal group who accompanied Paul Simon on his Graceland album (most notably on Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes).

Ten singers harmonizing beautifully and moving like 10 Temptations in African garb (although not quite as smooth) is an impressive site. I have to say that they were really good but not my cup of tea. The songs were long and very repetitive. At one point, I said to Joseph "Sometimes I find Gregorian chants very beautiful, but not for ninety minutes". He answered "I keep waiting for something to happen". After about an hour we decided to leave. I think an hour gives a group a fair chance to win me over. I should add that the audience went wild for every song and sang along on some. Being more familiar with the music certainly might have helped. Regardless, I'll take live music under the stars over reality TV every time.

 

Sam Phillips : June 18th at Joe's Pub

Judy and I have been big Sam Phillips fans since the mid 90's when we discovered her "Martinis & Bikinis" album, which might be the most Beatlesque album ever made by a non Beatle.  For various reasons, including her five year hiatus from the business, this was the first time we have seen her perform live. If she were performing tomorrow, we would go again. This was one of those completely satisfying experiences that, as with other favorite artists,  keeps us coming back over and over.

She was accompanied by keyboard, drums and violin and played acoustic and electric guitar. She was also accompanied by a micro cassette recorder for one song.  She stayed away from her earlier material and performed songs from her two most recent albums, "a boot and a shoe" and "Fan Dance", along with a few covers and one song "Animals on Wheels", from her 1996 album "Omnipop". For that song, she held the micro cassette recorder up to the microphone and sang while it played what is basically an oompah waltz.  She also used just about every combination of her three musicians and performed two songs a cappella.

She didn't do a great deal of bantering between songs because, she said, she didn't think New York audiences liked it. (Wrong!) But when she did talk she was funny and charming. After professing her love for Steve Merrit of The Magnetic Fields, and lamenting that she knows they have no future because she has no man parts, she went into a sultry version of the Beatles "I Wanna Be Your Man". Very funny. Earlier she had said "The band and I are here to tell you that hope will kill you. Spread the word".

Almost all of her songs have good melodies and infectious rhythms. Not to mention, lyrics which include lines like "nostalgia isn't what it used to be" or "If you're a dead man, stick to being dead". Funny and thought provoking. Our favorite song on her new album is called "I want to be alone". Every time we hear it, we laugh. The complete lyrics are:

I said I wanted to be alone. Alone with him.

He said he wanted to be alone. Alone with her.

She said she wanted to be alone. Alone with me.

 

After the set, we had a very friendly chat with Sam for a few minutes.  I discovered how much she likes Ollabelle and Nellie McKay. She also said that she'll be playing Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall on October 19th. If I'm not there, check the local hospitals.

 

Los Lobos : June 16  at Prospect Park Bandshell (Celebrate Brooklyn Festival)

It's very rare that you'll find me in Brooklyn, but this week I'll be there twice. A free Los Lobos show is too good to pass up and this Saturday I'll be seeing "a cappella" group Ladysmith Black Mombazo plus singer, songwriter and musician Vusi Mahlasela, both from South Africa. I think I like Brooklyn.

Los Angeles band Los Lobos has been making their "Mexican roots" rock and roll for thirty years now. Their sound is a fusion of R&B, Blues, Country, Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican songs. For this show their seven piece band included two percussionists, bass, sax, three assorted guitars and occasional appearances of squeezebox, keyboard and flute. People! - these guys are seasoned veterans who can really play and sing, and really know how to give an audience a good time. There were several incidents of drinking and dancing breaking out all over the park!

With all the original material they've written, they are probably still best known for doing the music that Lou Diamond Phillips lip synced in the movie "La Bamba". Richie Valens' music is not unlike some of their original music.

This show had a nice mix of their old material, "I Got Loaded", some cover tunes, Bob Marley's "Wait In Vain" and Richie Valens' "Let's Go", and a few from their new album. The new album is called "The Ride" and, like Santana, they've invited a bunch of guest artists to perform on it including Richard Thompson, Mavis Staples, Elvis Costello, and Ruben Blades to name a few. There are a couple of songs on the album that don't work for me but overall it's an excellent album.

The venue was packed to bursting, with people standing three deep outside the fence! John Platt from WFUV was one of the several hosts and it appeared to me that everyone in the audience was having a great time, including me. It's a great place to see a show.

 

 Jeffrey Gaines : May 2nd at Joe's Pub

We've all had those times when we have plans to go out but don't feel well or are so tired that we consider just staying home. If you do manage to gather the energy to go out, one of two things happens; either the evening is a total disaster and you end up sighing why didn't I just stay home and relax, or the evening is so wonderful that you end up thinking "Thank God, I didn't stay home". This evening was the latter.

Judy didn't feel well all day and might have stayed home except that she's such a big Jeffrey Gaines fan, and had been so anxiously anticipating this show, that she forced herself to get ready and go. 

A sense of calm began to set in as we drove into the city discussing the amazing string of excellent movies we had seen in the last few weeks (Girl With a Pearl Earring, Big Fish, American Splendor, Pieces of April****, Something the Lord Made (on HBO)****, and my second viewing of Monster's Ball****). I highly recommend each of these films.  As soon as we exited our car, we stopped and chatted with a beautiful young woman who was walking a 13-week old dachshund named Milo. Feeling bad? Pet a puppy (or talk to a supermodel).  We walked into the venue and immediately ran into Jeffrey's manager, Diane, who greeted us warmly and invited us to stay for the late show. In the course of the evening, Eddie the bartender, to whom I always say hello, bought us a round of drinks, and one of the pretty waitresses told Judy that she looked exceptionally beautiful tonight. We had a great meal and then the fun really started.....

Jeffrey has a passionate and soulful voice and writes memorable melodies with very effective hooks. His lyrics can be personal, inspirational or political. In "I Know a Man", he challenges us to get off our butts and drop the defeatist attitude because he knows a man who won't give up, even though he's paralyzed. Similarly, "Hero in Me"  urges that we all have it in us to accomplish more than we know. "A Simple Prayer" laments the futility of all war, and "Praise or Blame" condemns the treatment of Blacks, Native Americans and women in American history. Then he manages to make you feel his pain, or maybe it's your own, when he sings "I'm No Good Without You".

He most often performs solo acoustic, but for this show, and his new live album, he was accompanied by Matt Thomas on keyboards and Don Piper on electric guitar. They add a richness to the songs without interfering with the lyrics or vocal quality, which can sometimes happen with bass and drums. I very much liked this combo.

With the release of his new live album , Jeffrey was in excellent spirits and you could sense the satisfaction he was getting out of performing. In both shows, he told stories and interacted with audience members.  He commented on how all the waitresses and service help in New York are stars and he thinks his bellhop at the hotel was in this month's GQ. Both shows were very enjoyable.

When the show was over, we thanked Diane and, as we left the pub, walked passed actor/director Tim Robbins whose play "Embedded" is in the same building.  We got into our car and I asked Judy "Aren't you glad you came?" and she just smiled.