JULY 2007 back
I've told the story before of how our friend AnnMarie Milazzo told us she'd be singing and playing with Jonatha Brooke for a week of appearances at the Public Theater in 2005. I had been aware of Jonatha's music for over a decade but had never been particularly drawn to it. We bought tickets to one of those shows and it was a revelation. We were so impressed that on the way home from the show we decided to buy tickets for another show and went again two days later. Selections from those shows can be seen on her 2006 CD/DVD release of "Live In New York". It's one of the favorites in my music collection.
A few months ago our friends Robin and Joey, who've popped up on these pages before, came over for dinner and I played the DVD for them. They were both so impressed that Joey went out that week and bought some of Jonatha's CD's. You can imagine what they said when I told them she was playing a free show on the waterfront overlooking the Manhattan skyline.
She played a mixture of songs from the new CD, Careful What You Wish For (also a great CD), as well as lots of fan favorites from the last dozen years or so. Rather than list all the usual suspects, I'll just refer you to youtube.com where, between this show and the Highline Ballroom show from a few months ago, I've uploaded a half dozen videos that show multiple sides of this rocker and balladeer. Here's one: (Because I Told You So)
Two days after the show, Robin said Joey was still talking about it. The really good shows stay with me the same way.
Peter Himmelman: July 22nd at Joe's Pub
I have believed in money, but all I got was greed. I have believed in vengeance, but all I did was bleed. I have believed in fame, but fame turned it's back on me. If I had only believed in love, I could have been set free.
That's an example of the type of lyrics you find in Peter Himmelman songs but if you've never seen him in concert you might be in for a surprise. In between his deeply emotional and very beautiful songs, he's one of the funniest people you'll ever see on stage. I used to see him in concert often during the nineties but he got married, started a family and settled in L.A. where he worked on television, movies, and children's songs. He would occasionally release a CD and promote it with his web site, but his touring days were apparently behind him.
As far as I know, this was his first time playing New York in quite some time, I didn't want to miss it and he certainly didn't disappoint. He came out wearing a faux beer belly, he'd supposedly changed since last we met, and joked that the show would suffer because a couple who'd brought two young children to the wrong show would prevent him from using profanity (He'd done a children's show that afternoon).
Playing acoustic guitar and backed by piano and backup vocals from Daniel K. Man, he performed a handful of tunes from his soon to be released CD, The Pigeons Couldn't Sleep, and a selection of fan favorites from over the years. He even threw in one of his kids' songs for the youngsters. The Ship Of Last Hope and Good Idea were two new ones that were memorable. Impermanent Things, Been Set Free and Discipline of Rain were older tunes that reminded me why I used to see him as often as possible.
You'd think that being a great songwriter and a good musician and singer, along with being Bob Dylan's son-in-law, would be enough to make him a household name; but whatever forces control such matters have conspired to keep him as one of those unknown gems that are common in my world but rare most everywhere else. I highly recommend that you investigate his music. He's the type of artist that this site is all about.
James Hunter: July 18th at Madison Square Park
My friend John Platt, from 90.7 WFUV, hosted this show and in his introduction said that the first time he heard James Hunter he thought it was Sam Cooke reincarnate. In fact, comparisons to Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson are common, and if you listen to his 2006 CD, People Gonna Talk, the reason will be obvious.
Hunter is a fine guitarist and fronts a band that either of those artists would have been happy to front. He's also mastered the writing and vocal style of sixties R&B so that the first time you hear one of his songs the natural reaction is to think maybe it's a sixties tune that you haven't heard before. He can do smooth and mellow as well as hard and gritty and I sometimes imagine American Bandstand kids doing The Stroll to his mellow tunes. Hints of James Brown and Chuck Berry can be heard in his grittier tunes.
In fairness, I have to say that in live performance he's not, and never will be, the vocalist that Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye or Wilson Pickett were, but that's OK because he does transport you back to that musical time and it's such an enjoyable trip.
For this set he performed a majority of his original tunes from People Gonna Talk including the title cut, Mollena, You Can't Win and Watch and Chain, to name a few. He also included some covers from his earlier CD's like The 5 Royals song Baby Don't Do It, which James joked completed their journey from Gospel to pure filth, and The Very Thought Of You, probably best known from Nat King Cole's version. That's a good example of his variety within the genre which he also uses in his own writing.
The Decemberists: July 16th at Central Park Summerstage
Colin Meloy, who is the front man and creative reservoir of Portland indie rock group The Decemberists, is not someone you'd describe as a good singer. He can carry a tune most of the time but his strength is his songwriting and story telling. Last year's The Crane Wife was essentially a concept album with songs based on, or inspired by, an old Japanese folk tale which had haunted Meloy for several years. It made my list of favorite CD's of the year on the strength of its ambition and its eclectic mix of music from catchy indie pop tunes, melodic ballads and progressive rock anthems that brought Genesis or Yes to mind. Meloy is not bound by any genre and seems as comfortable with a sea chantey or folkie ballad as he is with a guitar driven rock and roll tune and isn't afraid for his very literate writing to be poignant or quirky.
I'd never seen them perform live so when WFUV offered freebies, I thought it was the perfect opportunity. The set relied heavily on The Crane Wife and included Perfect Crime Part 2, The Island Trilogy, Oh Valencia, and Sons and Daughters to name a few.
They also included some earlier works like The Sporting Life and The Engine Driver which is the song from 2005's Picaresque that originally drew me to the band and also includes Jenny Conlee on keyboards, Nate Querry on bass, John Moen on drums and Chris Funk on assorted guitars. The 3,000 young fans who knew every word of every song will probably be at odds with me when I say not everything they did reached me, but I can say that what I liked, which was good portion of what I heard, I liked very much. Meloy's vocal style and the generous use of Jenny Conlee's accordion often brought They Might Be Giants to mind. As talented as Meloy is, a better vocalist on a few of the songs may have made a difference. Still, the studio is very kind to less than impressive vocals making the CD very listenable and worth a listen.
Aztec Two-Step: July 13th at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ
I first saw Aztec Two-Step in 1972 and actually hired them to play at my house as a surprise for Judy for our tenth anniversary in 1990. Even then they seemed to have been around forever. Now, after 35 years of almost constant performing, they've put together a tribute show to Simon and Garfunkel, the group to which Aztec has most often been compared. The end result of the idea is that they're drawing bigger crowds and I'm guessing selling more merchandise than they have in quite some time.
The first portion of the show was awe inspiring. Rex had alerted us that they'd had some down time and may be a little rusty but several songs into the show there was no sign of rust. Their versions of Bleecker Street, Sounds Of Silence, Scarborough Fair and El Condor Pasa, to name a few, were stunningly beautiful. I loved when they gave the vocal harmonies their own touch and when Neal put his signature on the guitar parts, but a few songs did have slower tempos, Homeward Bound particularly jumps out in my mind, which took some impact from the songs and didn't work for me. I found myself trying to speed up the tempo with telepathy, which didn't seem to work.
In the middle of the set, what may have been some signs of rust manifested with some missed harmonies and timing problems. But this is only to say that the performance went from astounding to simply fun. Towards the end of the set they seemed to be back in the groove.
As is usual at an ATS show, the periods between songs were filled with jokes or amusing stories. Rex at one point claimed to be a better guitarist than Art Garfunkel and Neal said the difference between the early days of the band and today is that now they have prescriptions for the drugs they take.
The second set was original material which relied heavily on their 1972 self-titled debut album and included Highway Song, Killing Me, Cockroach Cacophony and their signature song The Persecution and Restoration Of Dean Moriarty (aka On The Road ), among others. They also did a few from their most recent CD, Days Of Horses including that title track and invited two young girls to sit in front of the stage for Stargazers. Near the end of the evening they slipped in Bridge Over Troubled Water and although there were many long time ATS fans in attendance, I think it's fair to say quite a few people came as Simon and Garfunkel fans but left as Aztec Two-Step fans as well.
The Kin: July 12th at Joe's Pub
I've talked before about how I come to discover so many obscure but talented artists. Besides the radio stations, web sites and magazines that I keep on my radar, there is also the networking with other habitual concert addicts. My friend, Mabelle, whose name pops up here on occasion, checks this site faithfully and goes out to hear live music regularly. Several months ago she enthusiastically mentioned The Kin as a "must see" due to their amazing vocal harmonies (although somehow she forgot to mention their movie star looks which may also have been a factor!).
Not long after Mabelle's "heads up" I got an e-mail from a percussionist named Marc Nicosa who goes by the tag Shakerleg. I know him from constantly running into him at Martin Sexton concerts over the years. There was a time when I used to refer to him as "superfan" because he was one of a very elite group of people who were bigger Martin Sexton fans than me. He was announcing that he'd be playing some gigs with The Kin, and after a quick youtube check, I put them on my list of things to do.
The Kin are Australian brothers Issac and Thorry Koren who've been living in NYC since 2001. Their debut CD, "Tracing" was released in 2004 and went virtually unnoticed but they're currently working on their next effort called "Rise and Fall", due out in September, and touring the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states extensively, building an ever growing fan base on the strength of their live shows.
Issac plays a Rhodes piano, Thorry plays acoustic guitar and both have impressive voices, but it's when they blend those voices that you sometimes get that "other-worldly" effect. With their beautiful melodies and impressive vocal harmonies, comparisons to New Zealand's Finn Brothers (Crowded House) are not unwarranted, but I commented to Judy about a Coldplay vibe during one song and later came to find numerous comparisons to the same.
I also heard a mellow Jimi Hendrix vibe on Thorry's guitar work on a song that I'll call Sons Of Abraham. I'm guessing that most of the songs were from their upcoming Rise and Fall (I couldn't find any info on Tracing) and included Blue on Blue, Photographs and Together to name a few. They also did a portion of Nat King Cole's Nature Boy before segueing into one of their own tunes.
Besides all of the abovementioned kudos, there are two other reasons I expect things to start happening for these guys. When I went back stage to talk with Issac, I had to wait for him to finish talking with a rep for Billboard Magazine. That can't be bad! And secondly, I couldn't help but notice that the audience was made up of "the beautiful people". All the women looked like models and many of the guys were GQ material. Hey, I'm in New York music clubs every week so believe me, this crowd was unusually beautiful. All of which leads me to believe that the future of The Kin looks good.
Rodrigo Y Gabriela: July 1st in Central Park
These two young Mexican guitarists, not related and not a couple, were in a Latin heavy metal band covering Led Zeppelin and Metallica and not going anywhere in particular before deciding to head to Europe in search of their destiny. While busking on the streets of Dublin they were befriended by fellow busker Damien Rice, who invited them to be his opening act at the beginning of his meteoric rise. Their self-titled CD topped the charts in Ireland (yes, a Mexican instrumental band in Ireland) and they've apparently latched onto their own meteor which has had them on Leno and Letterman in recent months.
Playing nylon string classical guitars, they fuse their heavy metal technique with the percussive style of flamenco. Very original. They play metal and hard rock covers like Metallica's Orion and Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, as well as originals. Actually, at this show their Stairway cover segued into their original tune Tamacun. I don't want to ruin Tamacun for anyone but it's primary riff sounds just like A Woman In Love, a song the Bee Gees wrote for Barbra Streisand. It would seem odd to me for that to be intentional but their set was filled with samples saluting Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Dave Brubeck and probably some that I missed. I was also very impressed with their original tune Diablo Rojo, which was inspired by a giant roller coaster in Denmark.
Rodrigo plays most of the lead riffs with Gabriela supplying most of the rhythm and percussion although they both do both. The style is beautifully frantic and I rhetorically asked the person next to me if Gabriela was going to develop carpal tunnel syndrome from the way she played. It's almost as exciting watching them as it is to listen.