October thru December 2003 ( highlights)          back

New Year's Eve : Dec 31st in Perth Amboy, NJ

This isn't a concert review. Due to the holidays, I've had a brief respite from concert going. I will be coming back with a vengeance in January. :-)  But, as you may have gathered by now, most of the stories of my life come with a soundtrack and this one is no exception.

Judy and I very rarely go out on New Year's Eve. The reason being that we go out so often, we don't feel compelled to go out on the one night when you know the roads will be filled with drunk drivers, crazy people, roadblocks and the clubs and restaurants will be crowded and overpriced.

So, as usual, we planned on staying home, having dinner, and watching "Seabiscuit" on DVD. Unfortunately, it was one year ago that my father-in-law came over for New Year's Eve dinner and suffered a massive heart attack in our living room. He lingered (more aptly described as suffered) for a little over two months before dying quietly with his family by his side. I knew it was going to be difficult to escape the memories of last New Year's.

Judy called me mid-morning and said we've been invited to a party on Carson Avenue. The young couple who had bought her father's house, Henry and Lizet, were celebrating New Year's Eve with a party in their new home. (The closing had been the day after Thanksgiving).  Lizet said it was going to be just family, but she felt we were like family now.  Besides, she wanted us to see what they had done to the house.  My response to Judy was "that is so sweet".

We arrived a little early and were stunned at how much they had accomplished in a month and how beautiful it was. They had changed the back porch TV room into a dining room and put an arched doorway and window between it and the kitchen. The two bedrooms on the main floor had been converted into one large bedroom and the basement was redone in a New York Yankees motif complete with a bar and carpeting.

Henry had a professional music rig with mixing board and tons of Latin music and a little American pop, rock, rap and dance music mixed in. He gave me a stack of cd's and said I could take any of them because he doesn't really listen to them. I took a Springsteen and INXS cd and the soundtrack to "City of Angels", a Nicolas Cage/Meg Ryan movie, that has Eric Clapton, U-2, and Peter Gabriel, among others.

The rest of the night, Henry and his brother, Felix, filled the house with music for every taste and even played the "Hokey Pokey" for the kids. Oh, our new extended family consists of Henry, Lizet and their two boys, Henry Jr. and Adrian, Henry's seven siblings and their families and Lizet's four siblings and their families.  (I think the nieces and nephews total 20!! - and they're all beautiful)  We ate some great Spanish food, listened to great music, met lots of lovely people and at midnight got hugs and kisses from everyone.

The next morning, Judy said the only emotion she was feeling was joy. I agreed and went into the back room to do some paperwork. I put the "City of Angels" cd in for a listen and started my work. Track eight was the Peter Gabriel song called "I Grieve". When it ended, I stopped my work and played it again. And then again. Then I put my paperwork aside and worked on this story.

The title is self explanatory and the song starts out very slow and haunting. Some of the early lyrics are :

I grieve for you

It's so hard to move on

Still loving what's gone

They say life goes on and on and on


Then in the middle of the song the mood lifts very slightly. Some of those lyrics are:


Let it out and move on

Missing what's gone

They say life carries on and on and on


Towards the end of the song, the drums kick in, the tempo explodes and the mood becomes joyous. Some of those lyrics are:


Life carries on in the people that I meet

and everyone that's out on the street

Life carries on and on and on

In the car that we ride in

The house we reside in

The face that we hide in

The way we're all tied in

Life carries on and on and on and on


The song brought tears to my eyes. Not because I was sad but because it reminded me that life does go on in the people that you meet. If there's one thing that gets to me more than music, it's human kindness. I can't fully express how grateful I am to Henry and Lizet for thinking of us. What could have been an upsetting evening turned into a joyous celebration in my father-in-law's house.  He would have been so pleased.



The Downtown Messiah (Again!) : Dec18th at The Winter Garden

  Anne Marie  Milazzo            Richard Barone

 If the Downtown Messiah was being performed again next week, I would go again. How's that for an endorsement! I listed most of the performers in the previous review but here, in no particular order,  are some examples of what went on at this show. David Johansen played acoustic guitar and sang ""Why Do Nations So Furiously Rage" as a slow country blues tune with Vernon Reid on banjo and Hubert Sumlin on blues electric guitar. Mulebone UK played "The People Who Walk in Darkness" also as a country blues tunes but then it accelerated into a rousing gospel tune with the chorus bursting in with Hugh Pool playing some wild slide guitar and harmonica and John Ragusa playing mouth harp (after beginning the song by playing a conch shell and then flute).  Richard Barone really nailed "The Trumpet Shall Sound" with jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker (Mingus Big Band) accompanying. Terre Roche performed ""Oh That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion" as a folk waltz and Pete and Maura Kennedy performed "If God Be For Us, Who Can Be Against Us" as a beautiful folk ballad with great harmonies and Pete on guitar. Ann Marie Milazzo performed "But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming" with the power and emotion that equaled any performance I've ever seen on a Broadway stage.  Mike Mattison did a soulful and funky "Rejoice Greatly". The chorus and the a cappela group "The Accidentals" did more traditional versions of their pieces.

Before the show, I spoke briefly with Maura Kennedy. I told her I had bought their new album at last Friday's "Messiah" and she quipped "And you want to return it?" Beautiful, talented and funny too! Who Knew?  :-) We had a good chuckle and Judy and I both told her how much we love their new album. We also ran into our friends, Roberta and Richard, who we know from constantly running into them at shows.

After the show, we stayed about half an hour chatting with Meg Griffin, Ann Marie, David Johansen, Richard Barone, Pete and Maura, and Hugh and John from Mulebone. All were warm and charming. (Actually, the entire evening was warm and charming even though it was freezing outside).

The musical Ann Marie is working on is called "Pretty Dead Girl" and will be shown at Sundance next month as a 20 minute short. (The musical itself is apparently still some time away). David Johansen said he's working on two albums at the moment (one with Hubert Sumlin).  Pete and Maura are at The Living Room every Wednesday in January and Meg may have talked us into going to The Bottom Line Saturday night for "The Beat Goes On" glitter Christmas show. I'll have to see if I have the energy. Richard indicated that if the Bottom Line does close, The Downtown Messiah might possibly live on at the Winter Garden. We encouraged him strongly to make that happen because this show is too special.

On the ferry ride back to Hoboken, Judy said how much she loves getting in and out of the city by boat and how much she adores Richard Barone. I had to agree.


 Loser's Lounge Tribute to Burt Bacharach : Dec 5th at Fez

 In 1993 when Burt Bacharach was in one of his not cool periods, musician Joe McGinty and friends put together a tongue in cheek tribute to the man who had penned so many hit tunes and quite possibly started him back on the road to coolness. In the 10 years since they have done tributes for Carol King, Queen, Elvis Costello, Simon and Garfunkle, ELO, Roxy Music, Neil Diamond, Paul Williams, Harry Nilson and many others. The shows consist of a house band, The Kustard Kings, and a large group of invited singers from an ever growing list, who each perform a song with the band. The shows are always fun but this was a particularly good show due to the great material and excellent job by the guest singers. The title "Loser's Lounge" might be a clue that not every singer is necessarily a great singer but they are all entertaining in their own way. But some of them are drop dead talented.

 David Driver, Josh Tyler and Sean Altman are three that always knock me out. But my favorite moments of this show would also include Mary Birdsong doing a kick-ass rhythm and blues version of "Don't Make Me Over", Laura Dawn's "Say A Little Prayer", Tom Clark's "Who Shot Liberty Valence" and Rene Risque's  campy "What's New Pussycat" where he came on to all the backup singers including Sean. Joe Hurley's  "Walk On By" was done like an up tempo Irish bar band (The Pogues or Joe's band Black 47 come to mind) and was very enjoyable.

  At each show they let audience members put their name in a jar and pick one at intermission to sing a song in the second act. My friend Joseph and I were sitting next to two girls named Lisa and one of them got picked to sing. Lisa #1 got all excited and told us Lisa #2 is a country singer/songwriter from Chicago and they're here for a long weekend. She did a good job with the song and actually reminded me of country singer Iris Dement. You could see the band got a kick out of her being able to sing. As you can imagine, sometimes the audience singer is enjoyable for reasons other than their voice. She has a website at www.lushbudgett.com . I guess she's going back to Chicago with the story of her NYC debut! Not a bad trip. Also, in the pictures above are Tom Clark, Connie Petruck, Amy Miles, Sean Altman, Chris Wolsey, David Terhune and "Cheryl Ladd look-alike" Michael the Girl.


Ani Difranco w/Joe Henry opening  : Nov 21st at The Beacon Theatre

Two weeks ago I called the WFUV hotline and they were offering free tickets for this show. (members are eligible for free tickets every 30 days, see wfuv.org)  I knew Judy wouldn't be interested but I left my info anyway because I know several big Ani fans and knew it would be easy to get someone to go. The next day I got the call and the tickets were mine.  My most likely candidates, Ed and Les, both had work conflicts and weren't able to go. Les and I saw Ani about 2 years ago and it was a powerful and impressive performance and I think Ed has all of her albums, which is quite a few.

I didn't really think about it for a few days and then I got an e-mail from my cousin Martye, in North Carolina, saying she and her two sisters and four of their girlfriends were coming up to NYC for that weekend and wanted suggestions on things to do. I sent them a nice varied list and we talked about getting together on Friday night since I would be in the city anyway.

At this point, I knew I should bring one of my siblings because we don't get to see our cousins as much as we'd like and this was a great opportunity. I called Christine first. She works for Lou Dobbs at CNN and is already in the city so she was the likely choice. Wrong! She's was on vacation this week and already had plans. My brother Paul, who lives a few miles up the road, had basketball commitments with his kids and couldn't find anyone to cover for him. Both were disappointed. So I finally called Terry. She was last because living in eastern Pennsylvania, she's the least practical logistically.  I laid out the deal - Ani Difranco for free and midnight drinks with the cousins - her reply?  "What time do I have to be there."

Unfortunately, getting from the Pocono's to my house on a Friday at rush hour is not an easy feat and she ran quite late. I had originally thought of driving into the city but altered my plan to conserve time. We drove to Hoboken, took the PATH train to 33rd street, took the R subway to 42nd street, switched to the 9 subway to 72nd street and arrived at the Beacon minutes before show time. Terry said "It's nice to see a professional at work " :-)

 I would describe Ani DiFranco's music as punk/folk.  She plays acoustic guitar and sings about politics, social injustice, self empowerment and other "folk" topics but with the attitude, energy and righteous indignation that's more Sex Pistols or Iggy Pop than Pete Seeger. She has an excellent voice and plays funky rockin' riffs on her guitar. She often performs with bass and drum but was solo for this show. She's also known for reading or reciting poetry during her shows. Her poetry style is akin to what you would hear if you crossed a "beat poet" with a contemporary urban poet like the kind you see on Def Poetry Jam. Terry said "Who knew that if you turned off the drum machine that rap would be interesting".  I agreed.  Her poetry was every bit as interesting and entertaining as her music.  

From her bio, I read that Ani started writing songs at age 14 and had 100 original tunes by age 19. In the late 80's, at age 20, she started her own successful record company called Righteous Babe Records. Talk about self empowerment!

I was very pleased that Joe Henry was the opener. He's a talented, genre-crossing singer/songwriter who I saw once before at "Sessions From West 54th Street". His songs have excellent lyrics and tend to be hypnotic and moody with a few catchy tunes mixed in.  Ani joined him for one song and later said he was one of her favorite poets. He also played with Bob Dylan once when Dylan appeared on "Dharma and Greg". (I'll tell you that story if you ask) This was already a great evening and we hadn't even seen our cousins yet.

After the show we met up with Martye, Elesa, Jeannie and their posse at the piano bar "Don't Tell Mama" on 46th street. We stayed out later than we had planned because we were having such a great time. One side comment : I didn't meet everyone that works at this club, but all the ones I did meet were pissy and rude.  However, even they couldn't dampen our spirits. As the time approached 1 AM we said our goodbyes with hugs and kisses and headed home. AS we walked back to the PATH station in 55 degree temperature, Terry and I both agreed that this was one of those perfect evenings.

Here are two of  my cousins.


 Garth Fagan Dance Co : Nov 13th at The Joyce Theatre

There are days when the universe seems to conspire against you. You're late for an appointment and you get a flat tire. You get out to change the tire and it starts to rain. Etc. Etc. Then there are days that the universe bows and lets you pass unimpeded and even gives you a tailwind. That's the kind of day I had today.

 We drove into the city and when we got to the Holland Tunnel there was no traffic. None! Very "Vanilla Sky". We parked fifty feet from the theatre and went to Cola's Italian Restaurant. (2 blocks down from the Joyce) It's a tiny place that's very warm and cozy with a staff to match. The food is wonderful and relatively inexpensive. We always eat there when we go to the Joyce and I highly recommend it.

When we got to our seats in the theatre we were sitting next to two friendly women whose names, unfortunately, I never got. The younger of the two was visiting from California and had taken in eight Broadway shows, some museums and now a dance performance.  Needless to say, we had lots to talk about and enjoyed their company.

 Then the performance started.  For the last year or so, seeing this company has been one of my favorite things to do. (Judy too)  I find the choreography exciting, unpredictable, innovative and just plain fun. Dancers will be moving frenetically in a way you'd expect to see on a National Geographic documentary of African tribal rituals and then snap into a slow ballet maneuver. This mixing of influences creates an edge of your seat excitement for me. (That may sound funny to non-dance fans, but it actually gets my heart pounding)

 The company is small and very deep in talent. So deep in fact that with two world class dancers on leave, Natalie Rogers and Sharon Skepple, the company picked up the slack and moved forward as good as ever. All the principal dancers are strong and versatile as is Keisha Laren Clarke who is not listed with the principals, probably because of her short time with the company, but is as good a dancer as I've seen in a long time. (see February review)

The program we saw included music from Wynton Marsalis and Jelly Roll Morton to Dmitri Shostakovich and Arvo Part. This eclectic mix of music and dance genres is one of the things I find so interesting about this company. Another thing I like is their policy to come out and meet the audience afterwards. We had lovely chats with Keisha, Nicolette Depass, Norwood Pennewell, Steve Humphrey, and a very pregnant and glowing Sharon Skepple. (that explains her leave of absence) All are as warm and friendly as they are talented. They actually remembered talking to us at past shows. I know this because Norwood mentioned that Judy's hair was different and Nicolette said she remembered me because I'm so good looking! (talk about a smooth operator :-) Several of them said we should come back to see the other program. What do you think the odds of that are...............? :-)


Virginia Rodriguez : Nov 7th at Joe's Pub

  One of the only drawbacks to Joe's Pub is that the sets are too short. They book shows only 2 hours apart so the sets are generally 70 to 75 minutes. So I was a little disappointed when she took the stage at 8:00 o'clock for a 7:30 show. But as soon as she started to sing I drifted into "the zone".

I had been listening to her new album "Mares Profundos" consistently for the last few weeks and was really looking forward to hearing her live. The album is a suite of songs, called the Afro-Sambas, written in the 1960's by Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes (Girl From Ipanema) which blend the Brazilian samba sound with African religious influences.

Virginia has a rich soprano voice and performed with cello, percussion, nylon string guitar and a flute/clarinet player. She did most of the songs from the album including "Birembau" which I was familiar with from Kenny Rankin's version. After a few songs she hadn't said anything to the audience so a woman sitting near us said something to her in Portuguese. After that, Virginia began speaking to us in Portuguese and really seemed to be more at ease and to be having more fun.  After the show, Judy asked the woman what she had said. She said "I told her to talk to us and she answered that she doesn't speak English so I told her it's OK to speak Portugese." She added that at the end of the show Virginia said " I apologize for being late. It was not out of disrespect for you. We left the club earlier and got completely lost". 

 I call her the Diva from Bahia because I like how that sounds, but the diva part is a reference to her talent only. Her attitude is completely humble. This was an amazing and completely satisfying musical experience. (and they let her play till 9 so we at least got a full hour)


Cyndi Lauper : Oct 28th at Joe's Pub

This show was basically a showcase for her new album, "At Last", which is a collection of some of her favorite songs from growing up. She didn't perform any old tunes, which was fine with me when you see the songs she did play. On the "fun" meter the show was a complete blast but musically it was at times uneven. She opened with the title cut and I found myself thinking that she's good but she's no Etta James. This thought was actually a surprise because I've always considered her a great singer. She followed that with "Walk on By" and struggled a bit with that also. Then she brought out some horns and percussion to join her piano, violin, drums and guitar and did a Latin version of Maurice Williams "Stay" which rocked the house. Everything was mostly uphill from there.

She told stories before most songs explaining why she picked them for the album. She was so funny that we had tears in our eyes at times. She introduced the horn players and got the sax players name wrong. She introduced his name as Fleming and he corrected her and said it's Frohman. She said  "well, those are both nice names" (or words to that effect). When he left the stage she said to her pianist, on mic, "I'm such an asshole". She would also accentuate her Queens accent for comedic effect when telling her stories.

When we arrived at the club we were told all dinners needed to be finished by show time. She had it in her contract that there would be no dining during the performance. I thought to myself "that's a little diva-ish, but I think I like it". Then we found out why. For several songs she walked out onto the tables, well into the crowd. She also went up and sang for the people at the bar. At one point one of her boobs popped out and she said to the people in that section "You have to pay extra for that". She was funny, charming and had a great song selection. Then she announced that she had taken a pill to suppress a bad cough and it was drying her throat. That's why she struggled at times!

 Some other highlights were "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and a rockin reggae version of  "Sunny Side of the Street ". When it was over Judy said "We should look into seeing her at the State Theatre in New Brunswick. I agree.            


Marc Cohn : Oct 16th at Joe's Pub

Marc came out on stage and said "This is either a room full of my most die hard fans", to great applause, "or a room full of people who don't give a f#*k about baseball". (To great laughs) The seventh game of the Yankee/Red Sox series was tonight but since this was the early show we were able to see most of the game afterwards. The people on line for the late show were the ones who were going to miss the game and after seeing the early show, I would gladly have joined them.

Marc sang and played piano, electric piano and acoustic guitar both solo and with various combinations of electric guitar, bass, drums and backing vocals. You could describe his music as bits of Jackson Browne, Bruce Springstein, Van Morrison, Bruce Hornsby and even a little Al Green gospel and r & b. It can be soulful, honky-tonk, rock and roll or folkie. His voice is strong and his lyrics and melodies are beautiful.

He did a rollicking version of his best known song "Walking in Memphis" with the audience singing the last verse, and a toned down version of "Silver Thunderbird" which was beautiful. "Dig Down Deep" also made a big impression. All three of those songs are from his amazing self titled debut album from ten or so years ago. He also did several songs from a forthcoming album  which sounds like it's going to be a great album. I believe that by this time next year everyone will be familiar with his new song called "Let Me Be Your Witness" which was so beautiful and so powerful that I still get goose bumps when I think of it.

This was Judy's first time seeing him live, but I saw him in Battery Park a few years ago. At that show, he played a song called "Ellis Island" which, as we sat there across from Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, was one of the most emotional moments I've ever experienced at a concert. I will absolutely be seeing him next time he passes thru.


 Vance Gilbert, Jill Sobule, and Ellis Paul : Oct 10th at Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair NJ

It was one of those draining weeks. I was out late the last two nights because my friend John is here from Idaho, I'm so overloaded with work that I've been turning down jobs on a daily basis and I've got lots of shows to see and review. Meanwhile, Judy is getting over foot surgery and yesterday our 8 month old Afghan broke her chain collar and went after a squirrel. Judy had to hobble across the street and corner her in our neighbors yard. Today the puppy went into our bedroom, jumped up on the bed and took a pee!! Judy called me up completely frazzled and said "I don't really feel like going out tonight". I told her "I know exactly how you feel but I think we need to go to this show".

 These three artists all play acoustic guitars, sing and write songs but their styles are very different. Vance is a little more jazzy and musically sophisticated, Jill is the pop rocker and Ellis is more pop and folk. Each is incredibly talented and Vance and Jill are also incredibly funny.

All three took the stage together and performed original tunes with a healthy helping of covers. In fact they had a battle of the song intros where each person would play an intro from a famous seventies or eighties song before breaking into their song. I think Jill won the battle with intros from "Dust in the Wind", "Roundabout" and "Iron Man" among others. She also covered "All the Young Dudes" and the whole audience sang along. Some of her tunes were "Kathy Lee Gifford is My Lover" and "Don't F*#k with me" which she performed as her first song because she said she was a little intimidated being on stage with these two guys and wanted to sing something that would give her confidence. And you can't believe the rich sound she gets out of that tiny custom made guitar. (see picture)

Ellis covered "Dear Prudence" with all three ad libbing lyrics from assorted Beatle songs to the tune Ellis was playing. You had to be there but it was very clever and funny. When Ellis did his song "The Speed of Trees" Vance went on a tear and did a Jamaican rap about Rush Limbaugh and doing drugs and seeing trees move and then segued into something about Ziegfried and Roy and the tiger incident. The whole place was howling.

Vance played the intro for Jimi Hendrix "Castles Made Of Sand" and faked us out by not stopping and playing the entire song. He's an incredible guitarist and singer. (One of my new favorites, Raul Midon, is vaguely reminiscent of Vance)

Vance made a wisecrack to Jill saying "Let's do a medley of your hit" (I Kissed a Girl) to which she replied "Have YOU ever been on MTV" which prompted Ellis to put his hand on the side of his head and say "And it was going so well". This was how things went all night. Vance and Ellis are best friends and have been on stage together many times, but this was the first time they played with Jill.  They had so much fun that they announced after intermission that they had agreed to do a tour together.

We laughed all night and heard great original and cover tunes by master artists and when it was all over Judy said, speaking of Jill, "I think Vance has met his match". Then she added "I'm really glad we came". :-)

(p.s. These were free tickets from my membership at WFUV)