September 2005         back

Katrina Benefit  : Sept 28th Central Park (Dr. John, Hubert Sumlin, Cassandra Wilson, Allen Toussaint)

This was another of the many Katrina benefit concerts that have been happening in NYC and, I'm sure, around the country. One advantage of these types of shows is the opportunity for unusual collaborations. The picture above is a perfect example. On the left is New Orleans icon Dr. John (I was In the Right Place, But It Must Have Been The Wrong Time), playing guitar next to Hubert Sumlin who was the long time guitarist with Howlin' Wolf. In front of them are Cassandra Wilson, my favorite contemporary jazz singer, and producer/songwriter/pianist Allen Tousaint, another New Orleans icon who wrote, among other things, Working In A Coal Mine and Mother-In-Law. You're not likely to ever see this scene duplicated.

The show opened with short sets from the Zydeco Twisters, country rock jam band Drive By Truckers, and Lou Reed with his band which included his significant other, Laurie Anderson. Lou updated the lyrics for Dirty Boulevard to include the situation in New Orleans and had some choice words for President Bush.

Dr. John and Allen Toussaint took the stage with the bass player and drummer from the Zydeco Twisters and performed a series of funk, blues, jazz and honky-tonk tunes, all New Orleans style, and then brought up a string of guests starting with soul singer Betty LaVette singing an impressive version of Saint James Infirmary.

The "house band" for the second half of the evening was jazz/funk/jam band Soulive who performed with folk singer Dar Williams, Reggie Watts and others. Their version of It's Your Thing with Vernon Reid and Corey Glover from the band Living Color, was a highlight of the set.

There was more, but at this point I was getting tired and figured that I had already gotten well over my $25 worth, and so I headed out. When I got home, Judy had baked banana muffins. Life is good.

 

 Flo and Eddie : Sept 25th Hoboken Music Festival

From the middle 60's to early 70's, The Turtles, later called Flo and Eddie due to a legal battle over the name, had a string of hits including It Ain't Me Babe, You Baby, Eleanor, You Showed Me and one of the most recognizable songs in the history of popular music; Happy Together.

Their real names are Howard Kaylan and Marc Volman and listening to them it would be easy to get carried away and forget that this is 2005, as long as you keep your eyes closed. They served up a string of familiar songs, with some humor and nostalgia mixed in, and sounded as good as ever with a talented band that included people who've worked with Tommy James, Meatloaf and Patti Smyth's Scandal.

One bit had Howard announcing that "most people know we released material as The Turtles and Flo and Eddie, but many people don't realize that we were also The Doors, The Beach Boys and Sister Sledge". A very brief medley of hits from those bands was amusing.

Another side of Flo and Eddie is their work as members of Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention which they said they would consider performing in a small venue in the future. That would be interesting.

Opening act Bubble, specializes in performing Beatle albums from beginning to end. For this show they did selections from Rubber Soul, Revolver and the White Album. Some selections included Back In The USSR, Nowhere Man,  For No One, and Taxman. When they were good, it was very impressive. Their version of Rain was as good as it gets. At other times the harmonies were off a little bit, but more often than not they did an admirable job.

There's another better known Beatle cover group called The Fab Faux made up of members of David Letterman's band. When Bubble took the stage they announced "We're Bubble, also known as The Faux Fab Faux". Actually, when they hit the harmonies right on, they were more impressive than the Fab Faux.

 

Katrina Benefit Concert : Sept 20th at Radio City Music Hall

For this night, and this night only, Radio City was no longer in New York City.  From the outside, it still looked quite a bit like the corner of 50th Street and 6th Avenue, but as soon as I stepped inside and had Mardi Gras beads placed over my head, heard the Preservation Hall Jazz Band playing Dixieland jazz from the lobby balcony and saw people eating shrimp, red beans and rice and drinking New Orleans beer, I thought "Toto, we're not in NYC anymore".

This was a fund raiser for the victims of Hurricane Katrina but it was not a somber occasion. It was a celebration of the things that make New Orleans unique; their food, their music and their attitude. After all, where else is a funeral followed by a dancing parade with Dixieland jazz. They don't call it "The Big Easy" for nothing.

The show in the theater began with members of The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and New Orleans funk band Galactic parading down the center aisle playing jazz with girls in flapper dresses and a few audience members dancing right up on the stage with them. After a couple of funky jazz tunes that had the entire audience standing and dancing, the Wild Magnolias came up and played Iko Iko to keep the party going.

That was followed by three songs each from singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne, one of the original New Orleans funk bands The Meters, and the John Mayer Trio who also backed Joss Stone singing her hit Super Duper Love.

The Neville Brothers, who also played Madison Square Garden this evening and were a surprise at this show, donated their three tunes including Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come which was one of the highlights of the evening. Another highlight and surprise was President Bill Clinton addressing the crowd. He spoke only briefly about his love of New Orleans and said we're going to put those people's lives back together but it was very exciting as indicated by the rousing ovation his presence inspired.

There was very little speechifying (it's actually a real word) but the most poignant comment of the evening came from host Harry Shearer (Spinal Tap, The Simpsons) who said after the hurricane the poorest, the weakest, the sickest and the oldest held out their hands for help that came too late or not at all. The funniest comment came from Tom Waits who said that he wished that New Orleans was dry and Washington was under water.

The chance to see Tom Waits was one reason I couldn't pass on this show. His set consisted of eight songs, much to the chagrin of the many younger folks who were here mostly to see Dave Matthews and Trey Anastasio.  For me, it was heaven.  If you're not familiar with him, by brief introduction I can tell you that he wrote Bruce Springsteen's Jersey Girl, The Eagles Ol' 55, and Norah Jones Long Way Home  just to name a few.  He also has an extensive movie career with appearances in The Cotton Club, The Fisher King, Ironweed and Coffee and Cigarettes to name a few.

I understand the younger audience getting antsy, Tom's gravel voice is an acquired taste. When I say gravel I mean he makes Rod Stewart sound like Mel Torme. Tom's whole persona is gravelly, not just his voice. With a band that included Blues great Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and Marc Ribot on guitar, Tom played a very bluesy set including Get Behind The Mule and the appropriate I Wish I Was In New Orleans and House Where No One Lives. One day some of those younger folks will proudly claim to have seen Tom Waits in concert.

The final set was Dave Matthews, another favorite that I'd never seen live and the other reason I couldn't pass up this show. Playing acoustic solo he also performed about eight songs, much to the delight of the audience who sang along on every one, and was joined by Trey Anastasio of Phish for the last two songs. He managed to perform two of my favorites, Stay Or Leave and Gravedigger, both from his 2004 CD Some Devil.

After an absolutely delightful evening I walked out of Radio City and looked at the streets of New York and thought "Auntie Em, there's no place like home"

 

Morley (w/Jorane opening) : Sept 16th at Joe's Pub

I went to this show mostly to see one of my recent discoveries, French Canadian singer/songwriter/cellist Jorane, who knocked our socks off a few months ago at The Mercury Lounge. I was vaguely familiar with Morley from hearing a few of her songs on WFUV and thought she might be someone I would enjoy. Good guess!

Opening act Jorane, accompanied by acoustic guitar, did a 30 minute set consisting of a song from her recent great CD "the you and the now", followed by a 20 minute jam, and then her simply astounding version of Led Zepplin's Dazed and Confused. The jam consisted of singing while bowing, plucking notes and strumming chords on her cello and included a number of different musical thoughts or motifs. We sat eight feet in front of her which was very satisfying as we were able to watch her playing "up close and personal". We spoke with her briefly on the street after the show and I mentioned the jam. She explained that since it was such a short set she wanted the audience to be able to sink into a musical state without being interrupted every five minutes to applaud. It worked for me. She's a great talent and we'll be seeing her again.

  Morley with Kismet

Experiencing an unfamiliar artist is always an adventure. You may be blown away or you may want to blow your brains out. As Morley began her set my initial reaction was that she had a good voice, not unlike Annie Lennox in tone, and her band was great. The songs were mostly catchy pop tunes with a strong R&B influence. The infectious grooves inevitably made you move some part of your body. Although not initially overwhelmed, I thought I might enjoy this set.

As the set progressed, I was somehow drawn in. By the time she did Why People Do What They Do (I'm not sure of her song titles), I was thinking "I'd like to hear that again"! I had the same thought for "Women Of Hope", a song she introduced by telling us about Aung San Suu Kyi, the elected leader of Burma who's under house arrest by a military that refuses to give up power. Her quote "If you feel helpless... help someone" is part of the song lyric and is one of the most simple and inspiring things I've ever heard.

Also inspiring was when Morley brought up her friend, Kismet, also a singer, and announced that this show was a benefit for Kismet's family, 40 of whom were displaced in New Orleans and one of whom is still unaccounted for. They sang a beautiful duet together, a cappella except for a small shaker. A priceless moment.

On a lighter note, she actually told the crowd that they must look into Raul Midon (Sound familiar?). She was so inspired by his recent show that she went home and wrote a song. She added that the song was inspired by Raul but it's about her boyfriend. Raul's wife Kathleen will be glad to hear that!

 

David Poe : Sept 9th at Joe's Pub

You may have noticed that this isn't the first time I've reviewed this artist. I sometimes discover  artists who are so satisfying, for a wide variety of reasons, that I take every opportunity to see them perform live. Some recent discoveries are Lizz Wright, who I love for her spectacular voice, and Raul Midon whose virtuoso guitar work and powerful voice just amaze me every time. Before them were Martin Sexton, Cassandra Wilson and Jeffrey Gaines and way back when was Aztec Two Step. There have been many others. They all have something special to offer.

I put David into this elite group of personal favorites for a number of reasons. He's an excellent songwriter, has a soothing voice, a great band and does some good guitar work (see my June 8th review for more details about his music).  But what makes every show a different experience is his sense of humor. He doesn't have a routine that he uses show after show, he just goes with the moment. He can be silly, clever, biting or all of the above.

After two new songs were well received, he got down on one knee and asked if we would be his focus group. Later, when a girl shouted out a request, he said he wouldn't play that song because she had talked through the first half of his set. He went on to say he wouldn't play any of her requests..... unless she bought him a drink! Then he added "Sorry to hear about your mother, you know, there's drugs for that now". Another guy, who was text messaging during the performance can attest to the fact that you don't want to be on the receiving end of his biting humor.

After a set with lots of new material, including two new songs with Duncan Sheik,  he finished up with some fan favorites like Reunion, Blue Glass Fall and Deathwatch For A Living Legend. Then he announced where he'd be having a drink and invited everyone to join him.

After the set, we went back to say a quick hello. After a brief chat he took a picture of himself with Judy which is already posted at www.davidpoe.com with 10 other shots from this show (if you don't know, Judy's the redhead).  That's a clever marketing twist, Judy already forwarded his web site to 10 of her friends as I'm sure folks in the other shots have also done.

I also had the pleasant coincidence of sitting next Chris and Lisa. He looked somewhat familiar and then he realized that he and I had had sat together when we saw David Poe at the Kerry Concert last spring. Small world!

Note: The picture above is actually from the June 8th concert, I forgot my camera tonight, but he looked the same.