JUNE 2006                 back

Joe Jackson: June 30th at Town Hall

I think I set a personal record this month for the number of concerts seen where the average music fan has actually heard of the artists.  For casual music fans I will add that, like Dr. John, you know Joe Jackson whether you realize it or not.

With hits like "Is She Really Going Out With Him", "Fools In Love", "One More Time", "Look Sharp" and "It's Different For Girls" he was one of the "new wave" of angry young British singer/songwriters, which included Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, who, along with punk rockers like The Talking Heads, The Sex Pistols and Patti Smith, rescued rock and roll from the throes of Disco.  And I do mean rescued.  There was a time in the middle to late seventies when rock and roll virtually disappeared from commercial radio and was incubated at a few progressive FM stations before surging back with a vengeance pushing aside anything in it's way.

But like Costello, Jackson didn't remain an angry young man for long.  His 1981 "Jumpin Jive" album far predates the jump swing revival that Brian Setzer, and later Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, embraced.  His work went on to include salsa, R&B, reggae, jazz and even movie scores.

This show included many of the old favorites with people singing along enthusiastically with the familiar tunes, and a handful of new songs which have not yet been released but have the makings of a great new CD.  I enjoyed all the new material but a song which I believe was called "The Drunk Song" was so beautiful that I wouldn't need to hear anything else to buy the CD.

He performed as a trio with his original bass player (Graham Maby) and drummer (Dave Houghton) from his angry young man days.  Needless to say that, although the show had a relaxed vibe, they could really rock when the time came.

I have to thank my friend and fellow WFUV member, Mabelle, who offered me her extra comp ticket for the show.  One last note : Town Hall is a nice theatre with seating perfectly designed for the average eight year old.  Consequently I watched the show standing at the top of the balcony with several other tall and big people which explains the photo which looks like it came from the Hubble telescope.

 

Dr. John : June 28th Rockefeller Park

Dr. John is an icon of New Orleans jazz, blues and funk. He's collaborated with countless musicians from a wide cross section of genres and no one who follows music is unfamiliar with his work. In fact, in terms of CD's released, he's one of the most prolific musicians in the business today.

He's just released his tribute to the songs of Johnny Mercer called "Mercernary", and last year's "Sippiana Hericane" (spelling is correct) was a benefit CD for Katrina victims. Previous to that, he did a duets CD with authentic New Orleans artists like Randy Newman, called "N'awlins: Dis Dat or D'udda" and before that a tribute to Duke Ellington called "Duke Elegant". All released in this millennium and all universally praised by critics.

That's why I'm always surprised when I tell people that I'm going to see Dr. John, and an overwhelming majority of them say "who"? So I sing the line "I was in the right place, but it musta been the wrong time". The younger people still look at me blankly but people of a certain age say "OHHH! He's still around"?  Yes. Yes he is.

He opened this show with a few old favorites, like "Iko-Iko" and "Rite Place", before getting into a string of tunes from the "Mercernary" album. It should be noted that regardless of whose music he's playing, it's presented as a gumbo of New Orleans jazz, blues and funk. His raspy voice and funky piano were accompanied by three horns, drums, bass and guitar who together made a sound which could never be mistaken for anyone else. 

After a handful of Johnny Mercer songs including "Tangerine", "Blues In The Night" and "Lazy Bones" he brought out jazz and blues singer Catherine Russell, the first of three guest singers. She sang two Mercer songs including a funky up-tempo version of "Moon River". My mother's all time favorite song was the Andy Williams version of the song so it was very nostalgic for me to hear this great version.

Next up was David Johansen who continued the "Mercerama" with lively versions of "Personality" and "Beautiful Baby". David actually sounded exactly like Dr. John right down to his pronunciation of "soitenly" (certainly). The other thing he has in common with Dr .John is that despite having a diverse and accomplished career, he's best known for his goofiest song "Hot Hot Hot", which he recorded as Buster Poindexter and we've had to hear at every wedding since the 80's.

The last guest artist was jazz/cabaret singer Anne Hampton Calloway who did amazing versions of "Come Rain Or Come Shine" and "Making Whoopie" before Catherine and David returned for a group finale.

This great show, and many of the other free shows I'll see, are presented by the River To River Festival which is in it's fifth year of presenting the world's largest and longest free music and dance festival. You can see their full schedule at  www.rivertorivernyc.com  

 

Sara Tavares : June 27th at S.O.B.'s

We've all had days when everything seems to go wrong. I'm happy to report this was not one of those days for me. But more on that later.

Sara Tavares is another young artist with ties to both Portugal and Cape Verde. Like Lura, who is one of my new favorites, she was raised in Lisbon in a neighborhood of Cape Verdean immigrants. Her music takes some of the traditional sounds of Cape Verde, think Cesaria Evora, and filters them through a European sensibility which includes western pop and the beautiful melodies of Portuguese Fado music.

The final result is a combination of beautiful ballads, which she refers to as lullabies, and more up tempo songs with Afro Caribbean beats that make you move regardless of your intention. She has a really nice voice and plays her nylon string acoustic guitar beautifully. Backed by bass, drummer and percussionist/guitarist, all of whom did backing vocals, this very satisfying set included several songs from her recent release "Balance" (bal-on-say), which I love and have listened to countless times. She also played a number of songs unfamiliar to me but apparently very familiar to many in the audience where Cape Verde was well represented. This was an impressive set and it's likely that this will not be the last time I see this artist.

Getting back to my good day. While driving into the city and hitting no traffic, Judy was saying how much she was looking forward to ordering Shrimp and carnival rice, which she loved the last time we were here. We arrived early, parked almost directly in front of the club and chatted with some nice people, some from Cape Verde, while waiting on line.

A girl was walking down the sidewalk and her knapsack popped open and hundreds of phone cards scattered across the ground. She apparently wasn't having as good a day as me. I went over and helped her collect her stash and she thanked me enthusiastically.

When we got inside and were seated, Judy looked at the menu and saw that the shrimp dish was no longer offered. Somewhat disappointed, she resigned herself to a strip steak. But as the waiter took our order, I asked what happened to the shrimp dish and he said he'd be happy to make it if we liked.

When he brought our meals, he also brought two drinks which he said were from the women on the other side of the pillar I was seated next to. This was somewhat puzzling until one of the women came over and said that she thought it was so nice how I had helped the girl in the street and she decided she wanted to do something nice for me. Sometimes people are just so cool!

Dinner was great, typical at S.O.B.'s, the music was wonderful and we hit no traffic leaving the city. The only negative thing I can say about the evening is that I didn't hit the lottery. Maybe the girl with the phone cards did.

 

Robert Plant, Ian Hunter (w/Ryan Adams, Garland Jeffreys, Nils Lofgren, Gavin DeGraw & Yo La Tengo - benefit concert for Arthur Lee of "LOVE": June 23rd The Beacon Theatre

                                                   

This was my third concert in as many nights and I was so exhausted that I briefly considered the idea of heading out after a couple of Robert Plant songs. That was before he took the stage but, shortly after midnight, when he took the stage and began to sing, my adrenaline kicked in and I wasn't going anywhere!

He was backed by a group of American musicians that he had rehearsed with for the two previous days. He was very impressed with them and said it was very liberating playing with an American band and then added "maybe liberating is a poor choice of words". 

He performed a particularly satisfying and surprising set which included "What Is And What Should Never Be", "Ramble On" and "Thank You" from Led Zeppelin II, and several songs from Love including "A House Is Not A Motel" and "Old Man", from their classic psychedelic album "Forever Changes", and "Hey Joe", more famous from the Jimi Hendrix version, which he turned into a medley with Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy". Did I say they rehearsed two days? Amazing!

He also covered Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth", Elvis Presley's "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You" and did a beautiful duet with Ian Hunter (pictured above) on the Everly Brother's "When Will I Be Loved". A great great set!

Previous to Robert's set, Ian Hunter, from the 70's rock group "Mott The Hoople", did a very entertaining set of rock tunes which included his two biggest hits "All The Way From Memphis" and "All The Young Dudes", both of which had many in the crowd singing along. He played guitar and piano and although he doesn't have much of a voice, it was more than adequate for these familiar rock tunes.

Some highlights from earlier performances were Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band performing a short set which included Love's best known song "Alone Again Or" and Patti Smith's  "Because The Night" and Brooklyn native Garland Jeffreys performing a three song set which included the classic rock hit "96 Tears" plus Love's "My Little Red Book" done as spoken word.

Ryan Adams playing with his recent group, The Cardinals, did a couple of original rock tunes and a couple of alt country tunes more reminiscent of his days with Whiskey Town and pop star Gavin DeGraw made a surprise visit and did his big hit, the name eludes me, and an impressive solo version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" on piano. That kid can really sing! Original Love group member John Echols also made some cameo appearances playing guitar and singing with Yo La Tengo and Ian Hunter.

It was a long evening but it did gain momentum as it progressed with Nils Lofgren, Ian Hunter and Robert Plant providing the left, the right and the knockout punches down the home stretch. I should mention that my tickets were comps from 90.7 WFUV to whom I am again grateful. I think I'll sleep now.

 

Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band: June 22nd at Madison Square Garden

If this was any other year and I told you I was at a Bruce Springsteen concert that featured solos on fiddles, banjo, accordion, trumpet, trombone and tuba, you might ask me from what alternative universe did I just slide in from. And in any other year the answer might be the universe where The Ramones are a folk group and Pete Seeger was a founder of the punk rock movement.

But this is 2006 and anyone who reads a newspaper or follows music at all, knows that Bruce has turned his musical world upside down with a brilliant CD and tour of music inspired by folk icon Pete Seeger, but performed in the styles of gospel, swing, Dixieland jazz, Cajun, old time mountain music and other "American roots" styles.

With his 19 piece acoustic band, Bruce cruised along comfortably between songs from the CD, including some additional similarly themed songs, and a sprinkling of his own re-worked tunes. The crowd was overwhelmingly familiar with the new CD, singing along enthusiastically on many of the rousing tunes and then just as quickly welling up with tears on some of the more moving numbers.

Among his original tunes the Nebraska album was well represented with a funky version of  "Johnny 99" and a version of "Atlantic City" which would have been unrecognizable except that the lyrics are so distinctive. The one upbeat song from Nebraska, "Open All Night", was turned into a jump swing number that was pure fun. He introduced his wife, Patti, as coming back from semi-retirement, she stayed with the kids rather than go on the tour, before performing "If I Should Fall Behind" and his version of "My City In Ruins" was so powerful that it gave me goose bumps and had Judy in tears.

The catchy, fun, up-tempo sing-along tunes included "O Mary, Don't You Weep No More", "Pay Me My Money Down", "Jacob's Ladder", "Erie Canal" and "Eyes On The Prize", among others.  "We Shall Overcome" began as a solemn prayer and evolved into a celebratory mood and "When The Saints Go Marching In", which is not on the CD, was also hymn like (Guitarist Marc Anthony Thompson, a.k.a. Chocolate Genius who had been reviewed here before, shared lead vocals with Bruce on a few tunes including "Saints").

Also not on the CD was Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Man Stand Such Times and Live" with new lyrics from Bruce tying it to the current situation in New Orleans, and a very moving version of Pete Seeger's anti war song "Bring 'Em Home", which he dedicated to Steve Earl and performed solo on guitar and harmonica.

Being from New Jersey and being a music fanatic, I was aware of Bruce from the moment "Greetings From Asbury Park" hit the stores. Very shortly thereafter he released "The Wild The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle" and I was telling everyone I knew about this guy from the Jersey shore. Two years later he released "Born To Run" and the rest, as they say, is history. I bring this up because despite being there from the beginning, I never saw him in concert until last year. In those early days I passed up chances to see him for free and I still don't know how I managed to miss the shows at The Bottom Line.  I was probably broke, but after that he began playing big arenas which I have always tended to shy away from. I prefer venues with better sound and a more intimate ambiance.

The last time I saw a concert in Madison Square Garden was Thanksgiving 1974 when John Lennon was a surprise guest at an Elton John concert. Great show!  Before that was David Bowie, Jethro Tull and a few others. But I was always a little frustrated by the poor sound quality or distance and eventually gave up on arena shows.

But this show was so satisfying that, at least in certain situations, I may reconsider my position. It wasn't Carnegie Hall, but for an arena the sound wasn't too bad. There are some other artists who I love but have never seen in concert due to my self imposed arena exile. I think that might have to change. The next time Peter Gabriel comes around, I think I'll be there.

 

Me'Shell N'Degeocello : June 21st at Madison Square Park

It's difficult to categorize Me'Shell's music. This show opened with a great cover of Jimi Hendrix' "Manic Depression" followed by a collection of new original material which was at times soulful, funky, jazzy and most often rockin'.

She thanked us for our patience and apologized for not doing any familiar material, but no apology was necessary. Her band which goes by "A Different Girl Every Night" was a collection a really talented guys who moved from style to style with ease and her entire set was completely engaging.

She's a musician's musician who's played bass with Chaka Khan and Sting, among others, and may be best known for her popular duet with John Mellencamp on Van Morrison's "Wild Night". Her own CD's are mostly soulful and/or rocking affairs but she's always trying to grow as an artist and won't be restricted to any genre. I most recently saw her playing bass with Chocolate Genius who then joined Springsteen's Seeger Sessions Band. More on that tomorrow! 

 

Rhett Miller & The Believers, Ollabelle and Teddy Thompson: June 17th at Central Park Summerstage

Rhett Miller's regular job is front man for the Texas alt-country band The Old 97's, but he moonlights as a solo artist and as front man for Rhett Miller and the Believers. This set with the Believers was a rocking affair with lots of rock and pop tunes from their recent release "The Believer" and a few Old 97's tunes as well, but without the country flavor.

Rhett's got a good voice and writes catchy melodies but what I like best about him is watching how much fun he has on stage. He jumps around like someone who can't contain his joy while his hair does its own little victory dance. It's very entertaining to see someone enjoying himself so much.

 I've reviewed Ollabelle many times on these pages. They play American roots music, which is mostly gospel, country and blues, and mix traditional with contemporary and original tunes. Five of the six members share lead vocals, with their vocal abilities ranging from absolutely amazing to pretty damn good, but it doesn't matter who's singing lead because it's their vocal harmonies that put them in a league of their own.

They played some tunes from their upcoming CD "Riverside Battle Songs", which comes out in August, including "Fallback", "Riverside" and an original tune written by Amy Helm called "Everything is Broken" which they dedicated to the man in the White House. All good songs, which bodes well for the new CD. They also included some tunes from their debut CD including "Before This Time" which is performed a cappella except for hand clapping. This was a great set. You can read much more about them in my many previous reviews.

   Teddy Thompson opened the show and really knocked my socks off. I've seen both him and Rhett Miller perform solo acoustic in the past, but today they were both backed by guitar, bass and drums and it was quite a different experience.

He's the son of British folk/rock icons Richard and Linda Thompson and although he's not the guitarist his father is, he's got a really good voice and is quite the songwriter. His songs are catchy and melodic but hold up lyrically as well. Surprisingly, some of his songs had more country flavor than Rhett Miller's, and with the bass and drums were very danceable. His new CD is called "Separate Ways" and is worth checking out.

During the course of the day I had a nice chat with Claudia Marshall from WFUV, one of the co-sponsors of the show, and Fiona McBain from Ollabelle who told me they've been playing every Tuesday night at Banjo Jim's on Avenue C and Ninth. That's something I need to put on my list of things to do.

 

The Loser's Lounge tribute to ABBA : June 16th at Joe's Pub

(Sean Altman, Jennifer Karr, Connie Petruck, Eddie Zweiback and Joanna Choy)

When ABBA first burst onto the music scene, I was the right age to know just how un-cool they were. Consequently, I never bought one of their records or saw them in concert and never ever said I was a fan. But I suspect that the countless people who felt the same way as I did would have to admit ABBA as a guilt pleasure if they were being completely honest. Their songs have become part of our society's collective psyche. Can we even read the words "Dancing Queen" or "Waterloo" without the melodies coursing through our brains?

Since the Loser's are particularly adept at recreating vocal arrangements, I thought this would be a show worth seeing (And I didn't even wear a disguise). I've described the Loser's premise numerous times before and so I'll just mention a few of the notable performances.

Backup singers Sean Altman (Suzy Hangaround), Jennifer Karr (The Winner Takes It All) and Connie Petruck (Dancing Queen) were as amazing singing backup as they were when they took center stage.

New loser Katia with the usual suspects

With her exotic beauty and amazing voice, newcomer Katia created quite a buzz in the audience with her rendition of Chiquitita. Also impressive were Julia Greenberg (Fernando), Michal The Girl with Cathy Cervenka (Knowing Me, Knowing You), Victoria Liedke (Ring Ring) and Loser's co-founder Nick Danger with a very entertaining version of "One Night in Bangkok".

I spoke briefly with Katia after the set. She's of Haitian descent and performs original material on acoustic guitar while singing in English, French and Creole. Her website is in the works. I also spoke with Sean Altman whose recent Astelin Nasal Spray commercial on TV has been very good to him. Now you know why his picture at the top of this page was somehow familiar.

  

Ralph Stanley and His Clinch Mountain Boys : June 14th at Stuyvesant H.S.

You may have gathered from these pages that my interest in music has few boundaries. I can't say that I'm a big fan of bluegrass music but put good musicians and good songs on a stage and I'll always be curious regardless of the genre. Ralph Stanley is a bluegrass legend who has been performing for almost sixty years. At 79 years old, I thought, "If I'm ever going to see him, this seems like the time".

For the first half of the show, Ralph acted as master of ceremonies introducing each member of his band as each performed a song of their choice with Ralph adding occasional backing vocals. His intros would include background information like where they were from and how long they've been playing along with some amusing anecdotes. Of his banjo player he said, "He took the first place trophy in a banjo competition in Seattle recently". He paused and then added "He took it, but they made him put it back".

His guitarist did a Dylan song called "Walk That Line" which repeats that phrase about thirty times. After the song Ralph said, "I don't know that song but if I had to guess, I'd say it's called "Walk That Line". It didn't matter that he's probably used that same joke at the last fifty shows. The jokes were corny but his timing and delivery made them funny. The house was howling. I couldn't help but be reminded of The Grand Ole Opry.

When Ralph finally took lead vocals, he did a series of bluegrass and gospel tunes including an a cappella version of "O Death" which was in the movie "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou". Very moving! One interesting point was that they never called a song a "bluegrass" song. They would always say "We're going to do an "old tyme mountain song" which some people call bluegrass". A disclaimer to clarify that they've been doing this music for over half a century but have only heard the term bluegrass in recent decades.

Two members of the Clinch Mountain Boys were Ralph's son and his thirteen year old grandson. It seems that this music will be around a good long time.