MAY 2007                           back

Damien Rice: May 21st at Radio City Music Hall 

In the summer of 2003, I went to see Damien Rice at South Street Seaport after hearing a few songs from his debut CD on WFUV, which was simply titled "O".  I hadn't been completely won over by the CD but was intrigued enough to check out the free show at the port. 

That show knocked my socks off in a way that few shows do. His voice was powerful and emotional and on closer inspection, I found him to be an excellent songwriter.  One of the biggest revelations was Lisa Hannigan, his back up singer who was featured vocally almost as much as Damien making her more of a co-singer.  They harmonized and traded vocals in a way that created an unusual dynamic which was very compelling. The CD was good but the live performance was amazing.

Several months back, he released his sophomore effort, simply called "9", and when WFUV offered free tickets to this show, I thought it was time to check up on the Irish lad. He played quite a few tunes from the first CD including Volcano, Delicate, I Remember, Eskimo and his big hit The Blower's Daughter.  He also performed Cannonball with no amplification at all. Radio City is a big hall, about 5000 seats, so at first we couldn't hear him, but when everyone realized what he was doing they got real quiet.  I think some even held their breath and it turned into a very intimate experience.

He also played a handful from the new CD including 9 Crimes, Rootless Tree and Accidental Babies, among others. He's usually described as an indie artist but his songs tend to range from beautiful emotional ballads to raging rock anthems. Some songs contain both of those aspects, beginning as a quiet ballad and escalating into a powerful rocker. 

Another emotional highlight was a song written about Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi,  whose opposition party won over eighty per cent of the popular vote in a democratic election in Burma which led to her immediate arrest by the military. She subsequently chose to remain under house arrest in Burma rather than be exiled and be able to be with her dying husband in England. The story, the song and the accompanying video was an inspiring experience. Damien's amazing cellist, Vyvienne Long, also covered a White Stripes tune which was an interesting diversion.

The biggest disappointment of the show was the absence of Lisa Hannigan who Damien said skipped this tour to record her own long overdue solo record. As good as Damien and the band were, Lisa brings so much to the table that she was sorely missed. I will be curious to hear her solo work.

 

  Angelique Kidjo: May 16th at BB Kings Blues Club

Sometimes I feel that my words are inadequate to express the full experience of an Angelique Kidjo show. If they were, then everyone who frequents this site would have seen her by now. I think my review of her in August of 2005  does a good job expressing how much her music affects me. This was a typical Angelique show which means you could not walk out of BB Kings without feeling invigorated or in a state of nirvana. Angelique is good medicine.

This show featured numerous songs from her new CD "Djin Djin" which has a dream list of special guest appearances. At one point in the show she started talking about her special guest Peter Gabriel and the crowd went into a frenzy thinking he was there, but she was referring to his appearance on the CD. From the CD she performed Djin Djin, which features Alicia Keys and Branford Marsalis, Salala which features Peter Gabriel, the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter which features Joss Stone, and Sade's Pearls which features Santana and Josh Groban. None of them showed up for this concert although three female backup singers from South Africa who sing on the CD did join her for a few songs.

She also mixed in a bunch of her fan favorites including Batonga, Afrika, and Tumba and provoked the crowd into singing along and dancing on those tunes. She actually invited about a dozen of the audience up on stage to dance and gave some of them opportunities to sing or dance solo. Some were very impressive!

Her amazing international band consists of two guitars, bass, drums and percussion, her voice is amazing and her message of peace, love and tolerance permeates every show. She also knows no musical boundaries melding various African styles with western sounds including Gershwin, Hendrix and Ravel. You might be familiar with the Jimi Hendrix "Experience" but it's time for you to experience Angelique Kidjo. But be forewarned, it will likely alter your state of mind.

 

Ready In 10: May 15th at Arlene's Grocery

Back in February, Judy and I went to see Martin Sexton at Joe's Pub and by chance sat with three good looking young couples who were very curious about Martin's music. Only one of them had seen Martin before and he insisted his friends come and see this amazing musician for themselves. In the course of conversation, we found out that the three guys were in a rock band from Long Island called "Ready In 10". After a really nice evening we exchanged contact info and a few days later lead singer, Sal Nastasi, sent us their debut CD Face The World.

The CD turned out to be a pleasant surprise with a dozen beautifully recorded original tunes in the pop rock tradition of groups like Bon Jovi and Maroon 5. The last track on the CD is a beautiful ballad called One More Chance and Judy started programming our CD player to play that track first and then every fourth song. I sent Sal my thoughts on the CD, including Judy's listening routine, and told him when they play in the city we'll come if we're able.

In addition to Sal, the band includes Marc Viola on guitar, Jim Milano on drums and Mike Elefante on bass. Their set included a handful of songs from the CD including One Man Show, a rocker which strongly brings Bon Jovi to mind stylistically and vocally, Burn, which segued into a rockin' version of The Beatles Dear Prudence with lead vocals by Marc, and One More Chance which they dedicated to their friends Bill and Judy. I wonder who they are? :-)

In addition to the Beatle's segue, an earlier tune morphed into the end portion of Stairway To Heaven.  Both were very effective. I always like when bands give the audience a point of reference by adding something familiar to their sets. Two new tunes Come Home and See and Wait sounded very promising and after the set I got the impression they're anxious to get back to the studio for CD number two. You might say they're "Ready Now".

 

Dr John: May 6th at the Hoboken Arts and Music Festival

Dr John is one of the icons of New Orleans music. Over the last fifty years he's released too many albums to count covering funk, blues, jazz, pop, rock, gospel, classical and any other form of music that's passed thru New Orleans. His raspy voice should be familiar to most people of a certain age from his mega hit lyric "I was in the right place, but it must've been the wrong time".

His slightly over an hour set included the slowest and most bluesy version of When The Saints Go Marching In that I've ever heard. It was very cool!  Naturally he included Right Place, Wrong Time as well as a funky/honky tonk  sounding Saint James Infirmary, Duke Ellington's Wrong Side Of The Railroad Tracks, the anti-war tune Soulful Warrior and the instrumental introduction to the classically inspired Litanie Des Saints which is my favorite Dr John tune.

This is a really nice festival with six city blocks of street vendors, sidewalk dining, two music stages and a kids stage. Some other acts during the day were a Boston avant-garde rock trio The Slip, a local reggae cover band The Verdict, who were quite good and the New York country, blues, klezmer, reggae, gypsy band called Hazmat Modine. When was the last time a band featured harmonicas, tuba, trumpet, guitar and drums?

 

Indigo Girls: May 5th at the Co-Existence Festival in New Brunswick, NJ (Vusi Mahlasela opening)

 The Indigo Girls are an acoustic folk/pop duo who've released over a dozen CD's in the last twenty years which have, on the strength of their catchy tunes and beautiful harmonies, generated a handful of chart climbing hits including Closer To Fine, Shame On You, Power of Two and Hammer and a Nail. The duo consists of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, who besides racking up a string of hits, are also social activists for gay rights, the environment and a gaggle of other political and social issues.

Early in their career I read where one of them described themselves as the female Aztec Two-Step. I've often wondered if they've ever considered having Aztec open a tour for them. It would be a great match and a big boost to Aztec Two-Step who, after 35 years, still have a loyal following that can fill 100 seat clubs in many parts of the northeast (to comply with all disclosure laws I should add that Aztec Two-Step are friends of mine).

The girls performed most of their fans favorites, including the ones listed above, plus selections from their recent release called Despite Our Differences. A good choice for a co-existence festival.

Vusi Mahlasela was another good choice for this festival. He was an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa who was jailed many times for his efforts. I've seen him several times before.  You can read those reviews if interested. He sings in English and several African dialects and has a good sense of humor, telling jokes and anecdotes about his life under apartheid. His voice in beautiful and powerful and he's a fine guitarist and arranger.

Earlier in the day, folk music icon Richie Havens opened the festival. I didn't realize he was on so early and so I missed his set. I guess since he famously opened the Woodstock Festival that it's some kind of tradition for him to go on first. At any rate, the festival was free and continues tomorrow with The Temptations (or what's left of them) and Shirley Alston Reeves from The Shirelles. You can't beat the price.

 

  Jonatha Brooke: May 1st at Highline Ballroom

I've been aware of Jonatha Brooke for quite some time. In the early nineties, she and friend Jennifer Kimball released a couple of albums as a folk duo called "The Story" before deciding to split up and pursue solo careers in the mid-nineties. Their work together and solo has long been a favorite of WFUV so any regular listener to that station would be familiar with both.

The funny thing is that for many years I'd hear one of her songs and think "nice harmony" or "that's catchy" but was never moved enough to buy a CD or go to a show. Then, just over three years ago, our friend AnnMarie Milazzo told Judy and me that she was going to be performing with Jonatha for a week at The Public Theater. We never miss a chance to see AnnMarie perform so we bought tickets the next day. (You've seen her on these pages before singing with East Village Opera Company, The Downtown Messiah, Angelique Kidjo and Jonatha plus her play "Pretty Dead Girls" was turned into a twenty minute short film,  shown at the Tribeca Film Festival and written about here).

That show was a revelation of sorts. We walked in excited to see AnnMarie and were subsequently blown away by Jonatha's singing, songwriting, musicianship, stage presence and band. On the ride home from that show, we decided to buy tickets, go see it again and were back at the Public Theater two nights later. Last year Jonatha released "Live In New York" which includes a DVD from those shows and it's one of the best concert videos in my collection.

This show was at the new Highline Ballroom which was christened the night before by Lou Reed and looks to be one of the better music clubs around with good sound, a nice menu (the kitchen will open in about another week) and eclectic bookings with The Bad Plus, Mos Def, Laurie Anderson, The Jazz Mandolin Project and Meshell N'Degeocello all booked for upcoming shows.

Jonatha played guitars and keyboard and was backed by guitar, drums and bass and played lots of tunes from the new CD but spread them out between the more familiar fan favorites. Some tunes from the new CD were Prodigal Daughter which she said her mother hasn't heard yet, I'll Leave the Light On which she co-wrote with Eric Bazilian from The Hooters, Hearsay which she wrote in anticipation of a TV sitcom called "He Said She Said" which never saw the light of day and the hauntingly beautiful Je N'Peux Pas Te Plaire which translates into I Can Never Please You.

The more familiar tunes included Inconsolable, Crumbs and Because I Told You So, all beautiful songs which featured subtle but incredible guitar work from the amazing Goffrey Moore which brought the tunes to a whole new level making them seem like rock anthems at times. Some of her most popular pop/rock tunes also made the set list including Linger, Everything I Wanted, Red Dress and Steady Pull . She also included her song I'll Try from the movie "Return To Neverland" and did a short solo stretch which she began by performing the song West Point on acoustic guitar. Her tunes tend to be catchy pop/rock tunes, usually with a strong emotional impact and sometimes danceable, or beautiful haunting ballads. Her version of Is This All  fell into the latter category and almost put me in a trance. Beautiful!

Early in the set someone yelled out "where's AnnMarie" and Jonatha gave an enthusiastic update of AnnMarie's adventures including doing the vocal arrangements for "Spring Awakenings", the big Broadway hit with music by Duncan Sheik. I forgot to mention earlier that AnnMarie also played keyboard, guitar and clarinet for Jonatha's show at the Public Theater. Think she's talented?

Jonatha and Goffrey Moore

This was a great show in a beautiful new venue. It most likely won't be my last time at the Highline Ballroom or a Jonatha Brooke concert.