November 2004 back
Badly Drawn Boy : Nov 20th at Town Hall
I was familiar with Badly Drawn Boy (aka Damon Gough) because of his catchy melodic pop tunes in the Hugh Grant movie About a Boy, and from some airplay he gets on WFUV. When WFUV offered free tickets on their members hotline, I thought I'd check him out. With Thanksgiving coming, Judy didn't want to give up an evening for an artist she wasn't particularly familiar with, so I went by myself and was able to trade my two balcony tickets for one primo ticket in the loge. Good seat for photos.
Damon is a versatile singer songwriter who plays guitar, keyboard and harmonica and has a fondness for wool caps, cigarettes and storytelling. He was backed by guitar, bass, drums, flute, violin and cello.
For his first set, he played his new CD, One Plus One = One, in it's entirety with a few stories and cigarettes between songs. It included the flute driven rock tune Summertime in Wintertime which had a similar feel to Jethro Tull's Dharma For One. An astute concert goer sitting in front of me, observed that some of the songs where the flute was prevalent, were reminiscent of Nick Drake tunes. I hadn't thought of it but that was a good call. The set also included the catchy pop tune Year of the Rat which has been getting some airplay on 'FUV.
He said he was in the process of writing This Is That New Song when, in the same week, his 33 year old friend Matthew and singer songwriter Elliot Smith, who he had admired and been friendly with, both died. He said when the song was completed, all he could think was that he wished they both could have heard it. He proceeded to play it on acoustic guitar accompanied by the strings. It was a beautiful song and certainly the emotional highlight of the show.
The second set included material from his first two albums and some covers. It included You Were Right and a beautiful solo acoustic tune called Plan B, plus some teasers like Journey's Don't Stop Believing and Madonna's Like a Virgin.
He also did a solo acoustic version of Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road after telling a story in the first set of how that song changed his life. He said that after hearing that song, he didn't listen to anything but Springsteen for about four years and practically admitted to being a stalker. He's met him several times now, and at the most recent meeting he told Bruce that he and his girlfriend Claire named their son Oscar Bruce. That night, before playing Thunder Road, Bruce announced that this song was dedicated to Oscar Bruce. Damon said he wasn't afraid to admit that that made him cry (until Claire smacked him).
I was very impressed with the new CD and I was chatting with a young guy from Mexico City who said he likes the other two albums even better. I may have to look into those.
A convergence of beauty and talent (Keisha Laren Clarke, Judy, Nicolette DePass, Sharon Skepple and Michelle Herbert)
Garth Fagan Dance Company : Nov 18th The Joyce Theatre
About 7 or 8 years ago, Judy and I decided to give up our NYCB subscription in order to explore the dance landscape more thoroughly. Rather than seeing NYCB eight times a year, with another company slipped in on occasion, we would see a variety of companies with NYCB slipped in on occasion. It was a good decision. We've seen many wonderful companies since then and I'm sure we both agree that the Garth Fagan company has been our favorite discovery.
Garth is a visionary who choreographs movements from ballet, modern and Afro-Caribbean dance with music from equally diverse disciplines. This program opened with Dancecollageforromie which used a "collage" of music from Dmitri Shostakovich, Hector Villa-Lobos and Jelly Roll Morton. Next was the premiere of ...ING which used the Brahms Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet and finally Woza using the music of African composer Lebo M.
What's interesting is the juxtaposition of styles. He doesn't necessarily use ballet moves with classical music and Afro Caribbean movement with the African music. It's all interchangeable making for an unpredictable and often exciting experience. I'm particularly fond of Woza although all three pieces were very enjoyable.
The principal dancers, Norwood Pennewell, Steve Humphrey, Sharon Skepple, Bill Ferguson and Nicolette Depass, are all world class as is Keisha Laren Clarke who is certain to be the next principal. The male dancers are remarkable especially considering that in dance years they're all senior citizens. Fortunately, you can't tell from watching them dance, only from reading their bios. To watch them dance is to guess that they're all 32.
At one point Keisha, Nicolette and Sharon crossed the stage in a three way embrace and I thought "What a convergence of beauty and talent", inspiring the caption for the picture above.
Sitting next to us were Jessica and Jennifer from Princeton, who I suspect we may see again at McCarter Theatre when Angelique Kidjo performs there early next year. After a nice chat with the two of them, in walks a young good looking black man dressed in colorful garb with dreadlocks down to his waist. In the course of conversation we discovered that he's a recording artist named Kameko who's appearing at Joe's Pub on December 14th. I listened to some of his music on-line and was impressed enough that I think I'll try to catch that show. What I heard had a vague resemblance to Prince with it's rock meets soul and R&B sensibility.
After the performance we met briefly with all the dancers and Garth Fagan himself. It's the custom of this company to always come out and greet any audience members who stay. It's just one more reason why this company is such a joy to see and why we love them so much. Nicolette Depass actually took a picture of me with Bill Ferguson. She said she wanted a picture of her two Bills. I wouldn't have been treated more warmly at a family reunion.
The Strawbs (Acoustic) : Nov 13th at Satalla
I suspect that the entrance to Satalla is actually a time portal which sends you back 35 years. With it's black lights and neon painted walls, it would not have been surprising to see a bong among the small tables and ottomans surrounding the stage. There were no bongs but it was warm and moody, a perfect environment to enjoy some good music.
The Strawbs are a British folk/rock band that has been around since the days of black lights and neon paint (and bongs). They can rock hard or play soft acoustic ballads not unlike Jethro Tull, or use keyboards and vocal harmonies to get a warm lush sound more like Pink Floyd or The Moody Blues.
Their acoustic show works so well because of the great job they do transposing the keyboard parts to guitar. They don't just concentrate on their acoustic material. They play from the full spectrum of their catalog and you hear the songs exactly as you remember them. This is due in large part to the guitar skills of Dave Lambert.
They played many of the songs we heard last month in Montclair including the Autumn Trilogy, Benedictus, Midnight Sun and a few from their new CD Deja Fou. A big treat was the addition of Hero and Heroine, a progressive rock masterpiece which sounded more like a bluegrass tune with these arrangements.
We got to speak briefly with Dave Cousins after the set and he seemed very pleased to hear that, 24 years ago, The Winter Long was our wedding song. On our way out of the club we also ran into, and got a warm greeting from, Strawbs keyboardist John Hawken who we had met at Montclair last month. The acoustic Strawbs consist of Dave Cousins on vocals, guitars, banjo and dulcimer, Dave Lambert on vocals and guitar and Chas Cronk on guitar, acoustic bass and harmonies. John Hawken doesn't play at the acoustic shows but that doesn't stop him from coming out to support his friends.
As we stepped out of the club and breathed the cool damp autumn air, I was reassured to remember that Nixon was no longer president. Be careful what you wish for.
Vienna Teng : Nov 11th at Joe's Pub
We just last week saw Vienna Teng opening for Marc Cohn and were so impressed that we thought "seconds" were in order. And considering how much I like Joe's Pub, this was a no-brainer.
For this show we had the added pleasure of hearing Marika Hughes on cello and harmony vocals. She had missed the Tarrytown show due to her gallivanting around Europe with another band. With Vienna on piano and vocals and Alan Lin on violin and backup vocals, this trio made some truly beautiful music.
Her set consisted of mostly original ballads from her two albums, which I've listened to often in the last week, including Harbor and The Atheist from Warm Strangers, and Gravity and Momentum from Waking Hour. Two beautiful albums and another beautiful live performance. She confessed that she doesn't play Momentum very often. She compared it to a boyfriend that you've had a nasty breakup with, but who you're still strangely attracted to. It's nice to see him, but only once in a while.
After the set, we chatted with Vienna and Alan Lin, and Vienna allowed me to snap the photo above. (Nice photo, if I do say so myself!) I'm guessing that with her talent, she will eventually be playing bigger venues. You can read more about her in the Marc Cohn review below.
Marc Cohn (w/ two Pretty Women) : November 4th at Tarrytown Music Hall
Sometimes a great concert can be more than just great music, it can be a great evening. It can include an excellent venue, people you meet, dinner, opening acts, humor and numerous other little things that add to your sense of enjoyment and well being. This was one of those concerts.
Our waiter at the Main Street Cafe, where we always eat when we go to Tarrytown, was from the Philippines and we had a nice conversation about my friend's movie, Closer To Home, which was shot partially in the Philippines (read about the movie directly below this story).
Our seats were in the second row and before the show we had really nice conversations with a bunch of different people around us, and even the ushers. The woman next to me had seen The Strawbs, Richard Thompson and Ellis Paul all in the last month (Talk about separated at birth!). Meanwhile, Judy was chatting it up with music lovers Rich and his young son Vince, who also take in their share of shows.
The show opened with singer/songwriter/pianist Vienna Teng, accompanied by Alan Lin on violin. Talk about a pleasant surprise! We loved her entire set and bought both of her CD's afterwards. Both are beautiful and her most recent, Warm Strangers, was produced by David Henry. (REM, Cowboy Junkies...) I had seen her described by the San Jose Mercury News as "the love child of Chopin and Sarah McLachlan", which is not a bad description especially considering her formidable piano skills, but I found her more reminiscent of Tori Amos with a little Enya mixed in. Either way, she plays, sings and writes beautifully and is beautiful herself despite some self-deprecating humor.
Vienna was born in the USA of Taiwanese descent, and sings in English except for one traditional Taiwanese folk song which she sang, she says, in Chinese with an American accent (I played it the next day for some Taiwanese friends who heard no accent). The song is so beautifully moving that I said to Judy "I bet her parents cried when they heard her sing that for the first time". I believe the title is something about Green Island.
You may be aware by now that Marc Cohn is one of my absolute favorites. He writes great songs, has a really good voice and plays both guitar and piano so well that you can't tell which is his original instrument and his band for this show could not have been better. With the amazing Shane Fontaine on guitars and vocals, Jay Belarose on percussion. We had just seen Jay play with Sam Phillips at Zankel Hall and were blown away by his playing. He did it again at this show and afterwards I told him it was a joy to watch him work. Playing bass was Jennifer whom I've met several times and I have to make a point of catching her last name. (sorry) I've seen her play with Julia Fordham many times and also one time with Joe Henry. She's a talented musician who enters "the zone" when she plays and I always enjoy watching someone experiencing such bliss.
Marc has a new CD coming out in the not too distant future and played a handful of new songs that have me very excited with anticipation. He also included lots of favorites including Walking in Memphis, True Companion, Dig Down Deep, Healing Hands and Strangers in a Car, among others.
He talked about being disappointed with the election results and especially that not even Bruce Springsteen could get out enough votes, but he didn't want to assume everyone felt like him or rain on anybody's celebration. But, he did want to play a little bit of a new song he was working on. It was a slow beautiful piano ballad that began with the lyrics "This is a song for the red states - What the f@*# were you thinking". The audience howled.
After the show we got to meet with Marc and I took the picture at the top of this review. We then drove home listening to Vienna's beautiful Warm Strangers and arrived home to be greeted by Nikki and Brea who were so excited to see us that they didn't know who to lick first! Now that's what I call a great evening!
"Closer To Home" finally available on DVD
My good friend Joseph, whose name you have seen in many of my concert stories, wrote, directed and financed this two hour award winning film which was accepted and shown at 26 film festivals world wide. I strongly urge everyone to go to www.elibonfilms.com to read the extensive good reviews and, hopefully, purchase the DVD. It's a beautiful movie which I personally recommend highly. By purchasing this movie, you will be doing two things. You will get to see an excellent movie, and you will be helping to finance his next movie called "The Rootcutter". I have read the script and believe in this project strongly. It's not often you get to support the arts in such a direct way. Thank you.