April 2005 back
Bruce Springsteen : April 22nd The Paramount Theatre
I already had tickets to see Jeffrey Gaines in NYC this same evening but I couldn't pass up the rare privilege to see Bruce in an intimate setting doing an afternoon rehearsal show before starting his national tour on Monday. I had to promise Judy that I'd leave at 4 o'clock, no matter what, so we wouldn't be late for our evening concert. She didn't want to go to this show because it would be too long a day for her and, although she likes Bruce, she's not as big a fan as me.
Because it was an afternoon show, I had trouble getting anyone to go with me. I called my brother and asked "Can you get off on Friday?" He asked why and I told him there is documentary on the new pope showing on cable and I thought he could come over and watch it with me. After a split second pause, as his brain analyzed if it had heard correctly, he said "could you tivo it for me?"
Then I told him the real reason and the pause was way longer than a split second. On any other day he'd have gone, but he had a meeting with his CEO so that was the end of that. He asked how I managed to get the tickets and I told him "Hey, you're dealing with a professional here", which cracked him up. Then I told him how I did it but I can't reveal my secrets here. Ask me in person at a show and I'll tell you.
This was a solo acoustic show and began with Bruce coming out and announcing that "Tom Joad rules are in effect" which means the artist respectfully insists on silence. He then proceeded to play a reworked, almost unrecognizable, "Reason To Believe" playing bluesy harmonica and singing thru a distortion mic while stomping his foot. The stage was dim and sparse, just Bruce, guitar and piano, with a light on Bruce, a chandelier and some colored lights on the curtains in the corners. Very moody and a very effective opening to the show.
Next up were Devils and Dust, Youngstown and Lonesome Day all played on acoustic guitar. Youngstown in particular worked well with a very rootsy Woody Guthrie feel. Some piano highlights were Real World, which thrilled the crowd because he hasn't played it in a decade, Racing in the Street, which was so beautiful that it gave me goose bumps and For You which was my personal highlight of the afternoon. He did it slow and romantic after telling us that he doesn't write many love songs because his father had told him that love songs are a government plot to get you married and paying taxes. He added that although he doesn't agree with that theory, it is his fathers most memorable quote.
Mixed in with several other amusing stories and anecdotes were versions of Maria's Bed, Silver Palamino, Part Man Part Monkey, Reno, Highway Patrolman, The Rising and a few others. Unfortunately, as promised, I made my 4 o'clock exit and learned later that I missed about a half dozen more songs including Waitin' On A Sunny Day, Jesus Was an Only Son and Bobby Jean.
Security was intense to prevent scalping but I managed to hook up with Bruce fan Steve who bought my ticket at face value and, long story short, everything worked out. I had heard from different Bruce fans that the solo shows were not as enjoyable for them but this was a great experience and the next time Bruce plays solo, I will once again use my mischievous ways to get my hands on some tickets. Anyone want to go? We can meet at Madam Marie's. The cops may have busted her but she's still in business.
p.s. This months VH-1 Storytellers is Bruce recorded in Red Bank earlier this month.
Jeffrey Gaines : April 22nd at Satalla
So, after a typical afternoon I went home, picked up Judy and headed into the city. We arrived at Satalla and had a nice conversation with a young Filipina American girl named Cece who was waiting for her husband. Of course, I gave her a little flyer for my friend Joseph's movie "Closer To Home" which was shot in the Philippines. You never know what you'll find in my pockets.
We also got to chat with Jeffrey and his manager Diane before the set. Jeff seemed intrigued by my story of seeing a Springsteen rehearsal concert that very afternoon. Now that I think of it, I bet I could have gotten him to go with me. Diane ended up sitting with us for the show and we got caught up with all our news both good and bad.
This set was probably the most talkative I've ever seen him. He did a wide variety of songs from all his albums including Judy's favorite Toast and Tea plus I Know a Man, To Love Her Inside, Hero In Me, Safety In Self and my favorite Without You among others. He also did several covers including Tom Petty's The Waiting Is The Hardest Part, Sly Stone's Thank-You........., and Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes, which Jeffrey is somewhat famous for. The crowd had a good time participating in all three.
In between songs he told lots of stories like how Heidi Klum flirted with him at the Grammys or how every girl he ever dated called him to thank him for writing Without You for her when he actually wrote it for his mother. Most of the stories were very funny even if a few ran on a little.
After the set we asked our waitress, a very sweet and beautiful girl named Jamie, for our check and were completely surprised and touched to find out that Jeffrey's girlfriend Jackie had paid our tab! We thanked her and asked why, and she answered just to thank us for being so supportive. And I was just thinking that the day couldn't get any better.
You might think that just about as much music as a person could handle in one day but remember who you're dealing with here. On Thursday we received Peter Gabriel's concert DVD in the mail. It's called Growing Up /Live and was filmed at two shows in Milan. I watched several songs Friday morning before going to work and was blown away. We got home around 11 Friday evening and I put the DVD back in and watched some more. It may be the best concert DVD I've ever seen. I got goose bumps several times particularly on Sky Blue when The Blind Boys Of Alabama sing the chorus. The songs are beautiful and emotionally powerful. When the clock struck twelve I went to bed content that I had heard enough great music for one day.
Hem : April 17th at The Tin Angel
For me, going to Philadelphia for business means I get a chance to hear music in a different venue. I almost went to see Hem last year, when they were at Joe's Pub, after reading some intriguing press. They're a versatile alt country band who often perform with 8 or 9 musicians but for this small venue performed as a quintet with the beautiful Heather Zimmerman on violin, Dan Messe on keyboard, Steve Curtis and Gary Maurer on alternating guitars and mandolins, and front woman Sally Ellyson on vocals.
Sally vaguely resembles a young Judy Collins and even her voice is similar in strength and style although an octave or so lower. Their mostly original songs range from beautiful country waltzes and ballads to more up tempo catchy pop tunes and, with the violin and mandolin, several tunes had a country roots feel. All three guys write the songs and Steve does some excellent harmony vocals. The covers included Tennessee Waltz and a slower more moody version of We Got Married in a Fever which was made famous by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. This was an enjoyable set.
Ann Heaton opened on electric piano accompanied by acoustic guitar and also did an enjoyable set. She was very sweet, which I think you can sense from the photo, and had a good voice. The last song of her set she wrote as a wedding present when she was maid of honor at her best friend's wedding. It was so touching that she had the whole room in the palm of her hand. It began with her 16 year old friend lamenting "I don't know if he likes me" and ended with Ann announcing to her friend on her wedding day that "I'm sure that he likes you". Maybe you had to be there but, take my word, it was very moving.
A Streetcar Named Desire : April 15th at Studio 54
When I first met Judy, she had a very dear older gay friend named Neil. The first time I met him was shortly after we were married when he took us to brunch at Tavern on the Green as a wedding gift. I don't know if he loved me because I always treated him with kindness and respect or if he just loved anybody that Judy loved, maybe a little of both, but after that brunch I always felt he was my friend too.
Neil died a few years ago, essentially of a broken heart after losing Harold, his partner of over 35 years. Of all our fond memories of Neil, there is one that stands out above all others. Judy and I had watched the PBS production of Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer" with Natasha Richardson and Rob Lowe and were completely blown away by the performances. Neil and Harold had also seen the performance and were equally impressed.
Shortly thereafter, Neil called and said Natasha was going to be in Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie" with then little known actor Liam Neeson (this was pre-Schindler) and would we like to go. Of course we did.
We were very excited with anticipation as we sat in the Roundabout Theatre, me on Judy's left and Neil and then Harold to her right. In some shows the star will make a grand entrance down a flight of stairs or with a great musical introduction, but Anna Christie's entrance is by peeking into a bar room from a small window. Both Neil and I noticed her as soon as she peeked in the window and we simultaneously started jabbing Judy with our elbows to alert her. She was fortunate to escape without broken ribs. Later we all laughed hysterically about it. It's silly but we can't hear Neil's name without thinking of that moment.
The moment we heard that Natasha was going to be in "Streetcar" we picked up the phone and ordered tickets. The show opens April 26th but we didn't need to wait for the critics to tell us if we wanted to see it, so we saw it in previews.
When Blanche DuBois (Natasha) casually strolled onto the set looking for her sister's address, Judy and I both jabbed each other and smiled. It took a little while for me to become absorbed with the story, and the first act was 90 minutes, too long for my back in theatre seats, so there were some moments when I was aware of time but I was completely mesmerized for the second act. Natasha is just brilliant and John C. Reilly did an admirable job as Stanley, although he was not able to completely put the image of Marlon Brando out of my mind. Of course, how many really could (maybe Sean Penn). Amy Ryan was also excellent as Stella!, as was Chris Bauer who played Mitch.
You're not really supposed to review shows in previews but I'm not really a critic and I paid for my own ticket so I think the first amendment will cover me!
After the performance I was thinking that having a nervous breakdown on stage every night must take an emotional toll on an actor. As we exited the theater, we saw Liam Neeson arriving to pick up his wife. They've been together since Anna Christie and I thought "Good, Liam's here, she'll be O.K." As we walked down 54th street I also thought "Neil would have liked this".
Raul Midon : April 13th at Joe's Pub
I wasn't planning on going to this show, because I already had tickets to see Zap Mama at S.O.B.'s this evening, but at the last minute I realized I could shoot over to Joe's Pub for Raul's 7:30 curtain time and be back to S.O.B.'s at 9:00pm for Zap Mama.
When I arrived, I found the show to be sold out but I ran into Raul's wife, Kathleen, whose friend had an extra ticket, so I was in! Raul's new CD comes out in June but Kathleen gave me a promo copy last month. It's a beautiful effort and I never get weary of hearing these songs performed live. The CD has the potential to bring lots of recognition Raul's way with the one possible drawback being that it may have trouble finding a radio home because it's somewhat eclectic.
I would hope WFUV will give it some attention and with so many beautiful melodies and infectious rhythms it seems very suited for easy listening and lite jazz stations. I think real jazz stations should play it too, but I'm not sure if that'll happen.
In the last two years I've written about him so often that you can review some of those reports for more specific details about his music. Suffice it to say that I've seen him about 10 times in the last two years so that should tell you where I stand. I didn't stay for the entire set because I had to get over to the other show but this was quite an appetizer!
Zap Mama : April 13th at S.O.B.'s
As near as I can tell, Zap Mama is the moniker of singer songwriter and arranger Marie Dualne, and also the name of the group. I first saw them on Saturday Night Live at least 10 or 12 years ago and have been a fan ever since.
They started as an a cappella quintet doing world music with African and Arabian influences and eventually added musicians and many western ingredients including hip-hop, funk, jazz and Latin influences among others.
I've always been a sucker for great vocal arrangements and harmonies which explains why I'm such a big fan of bands like The Beatles and Mamas and Papas. Zap Mama takes assorted world rhythms and adds absolutely beautiful vocal arrangements that send me into my nirvanic zone (Yes, I made up that word). The music is exciting and danceable without sacrificing melody.
Marie so enjoys arranging that at points in the show she made the audience part of her arrangement by giving us vocal parts to sing or having us jingle our keys while the band sang a cappella. (I guess if they're accompanied by jingling keys, then it's not a cappella)
The group, five musicians, Marie and three female singers, took the stage with the girls looking like Star Wars geishas. I mean that as in colorful, theatrical and exotic, not as in campy, although it's a very fine line. They performed several songs from their recent CD Ancestry in Progress and some older tunes including the very popular Raffiki from their 1999 breakthrough CD A Ma Zone.
Due to some last minute complications I ended up going alone and, as is often the case, had a great time anyway meeting lots of interesting people including two beautiful girls from Somalia who I was speaking with before the show and the threesome I sat with, Marc, Pete and Amais, three creative types who's collective musical taste included U-2, Mos Def, Ani DiFranco, reggae and classic rock to name a few. Let's just say I was in my element.
I should add that the opening act was a pleasant surprise. A singer songwriter from Kansas City whose name is Crystal, (I don't remember her last name but I will find it) and who had a voice that reminded me of Tracy Chapman with a slightly more bluesy style. As I was thinking Tracy Chapman meets Bessie Smith or Billie Holiday, Amais (spelling? sorry) leaned over and said Tracy Chapmen meets Billie Holiday. Great minds thing alike! Her gut wrenching version of John Lennon's Jealous Guy was particularly moving. This was a great evening.