November 2005          back

Aztec Two-Step (Red Molly opening) : November 26th at Sanctuary Concerts (Chatham, NJ)

Over the last 32 years I've seen Aztec Two-Step perform several dozen times, including a show earlier this year, and might have taken a pass on this one except that I couldn't resist the idea of seeing them do the Simon and Garfunkel songbook. They've often been compared to Simon & Garfunkel, as well as The Everly Brothers, and have shared the stage with Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Chapin and Judy Collins, to name a few, but have only gotten close enough to peek over the hump that separates them from big time fame and success. After so many years, it would seem they've poured a cement foundation on their side of the hump (although strange things can happen in music and real estate).

This show is a work in progress and was, at times, rough around the edges, but the great vocal harmonies and guitar work of ATS made these familiar classics shine more often than not. Some of the classics in their set included Feelin' Groovy, Sounds of Silence, Scarborough Fair, Cecelia, I Am A Rock, Homeward Bound, El Condor Pasa, Hazy Shade Of Winter, America, Mrs. Robinson and The Boxer, among others. An earlier and maybe lesser known song, Bleecker Street, was actually one of the highlights.

Two original tunes in the middle of the show tended to break the momentum, but three at the end: Baking, Almost Apocalypse and Cockroach Cacophony effectively demonstrated why they've so often been compared to Simon and Garfunkel.

Neil Shulman joked that attempting these classics was slightly intimidating but that works both ways. He said when he went to see Simon and Garfunkel at the Meadowlands he felt Paul Simon knew he was there and sensed some apprehension. "He knows we're closing that 200 million gap in record sales."  

2/3 of Red Molly

Opening act Red Molly was a pleasant surprise. Three local artists Abbie Gardner, Laurie MacAllister and Carolann Solebello, met at The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival and decided to combine their talents to form Red Molly.  Playing various combinations of guitars, banjo, mandolin and dobro, combined with beautiful three part harmonies they played a half hour set of American Roots music that knocked the socks off a SRO crowd that had come mostly to see Aztec Two-Step.

American Roots describes a gumbo that can include folk, blues, country, gospel and Appalachian tunes. Their set included traditional tunes, a Hank Williams song and some originals. They hail from Rockland County, Staten Island and Jersey City but they sing and play like they're from North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Excited to be playing in front of their largest audience, Abbie notices people in the balcony (pictured above).  I suspect there will be larger audiences in their future.

 

Bruce Springsteen : November 21st at    Sovereign Bank Arena, Trenton, NJ

Sometimes you form a bond with a person that is so strong that it can never be completely severed regardless of time or circumstance. Due to circumstances beyond everyone's control, Judy and I hadn't seen nor spoken to Robin for seven years and thought that we never would. But a series of unlikely events involving two dead dancers, a chance meeting with a Russian informer, a secret wedding and an orphaned kitten somehow, to our mutual delight, brought us back together. 

When she called Monday morning and said she had an emergency, I knew I would say "yes" before I even heard what it was. She said "Joey and I have two extra tickets for Bruce Springsteen tonight, they're in a corporate box, so they're free, and we were wondering if you and Judy could go?" (readers can insert funny comment here).

This was Bruce solo acoustic but with a very different set list than what I saw in April. He opened with an electric guitar doing a 50's stroll called Rumble as a tribute to guitarist Link Wray who, it was just announced this day, had died two weeks ago.  He followed that with an almost unrecognizable version of Born In The USA playing harmonica and singing into a bullet mic while vigorously stomping his heel.  A bullet mic is used by blues singers and harmonica players to get various wah-wah and distortion effects. How distorted? I didn't realize it was Born In The USA until I read it the next day. He used the same mic later for Saint In The City.

Some highlights for me were Atlantic City, Matamoras Banks and Song For The Orphans on acoustic guitar. He hadn't played Orphans since 1973 and I can't imagine why. It was beautiful. Some piano highlights included Fade Away and Jesus Was An Only Son.

He didn't talk a whole lot except when he held up a drawing of his old neighborhood that he said was from a Canadian woman but looked like it was done by a third grader. He showed us where he and his relatives all lived in relation to the local church, which was drawn ten times larger than the houses. He joked it wasn't to scale physically but was right on scale emotionally. Very funny segment.

This was not a greatest hits show which left some people wanting for Rosalita, Sandy and Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, but I left happy and content. I owe Robin and Joey big time! Fortunately, there should be plenty of opportunity for pay back.  

 

Garth Fagan Dance Company : Nov10th at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Pictured above are two of the many reasons why I love this dance company. Keisha Laren Clarke and Nicolette DePass along with Sharon Skepple are the three principal female dancers with this company and are beautiful, immensely talented and are fortunate to work for one of the most creative forces in dance today. 

Garth Fagan, who is best known as the award winning choreographer for The Lion King on Broadway, has one of the most versatile companies I've seen. Considering he uses elements of modern, ballet and Afro-Caribbean movements in his works, they had better be versatile.

This performance included excerpts from Griot New York with music by Wynton Marsalis, Life: Dark/Light with live music written and performed by jazz violinist Billy Bang and his group and Translation Transition with music from the Jazz Jamaican All Stars. The next evening's program included music from Dmitri Shostakovich and Cristobal de Morales (1500-1553)

The principal male dancers are equally versatile and with some very impressive younger dancers, I suspect I'll be seeing this company for many years to come.    

 

K. T. Tunstall : Nov 9th at The Living Room

This singer songwriter from Scotland has been cultivating a following in the U.K. but has just begun to get some exposure over here. I heard one of her songs on WFUV and was very impressed. Judy had her Afghan Hound Club meeting so I decided to head into the city and check her out myself.

She had a really good voice, catchy melodic songs and used a tape loop to do some interesting vocal and percussive overdubs. The audience included record people from Virgin and EMI along with some press. I suspect you'll be hearing more on K. T. Tunstall.

The Living Room consists of the back room where the music is performed and the front room which is essentially a neighborhood bar. Each room holds maybe 50 or 60 people. After the set I exited the back room and walked right past Norah Jones and Jessie Harris who were sitting at the bar having a conversation. I didn't talk to them but I thought just seeing them was noteworthy. I think next time I'll introduce myself.

 

Rufus Wainwright : Nov 1 & 2 at The Beacon Theatre

You may have gathered that this web site, and my taste in music, covers quite a large swath of musical territory. Rufus Wainwright is as talented an artist as any artist or band you'll see on these pages. He was a handful of seats away from selling out the Beacon Theatre two nights in a row and yet almost nobody I meet has ever heard of him.

When people ask me what kind of music he plays, they should prepare for a long winded answer because there is no short answer. He's an amazing vocal talent although the nasal quality of his voice can be an acquired taste for some people. He also plays piano and guitar and is a great songwriter. But describing it....hmm...

Well, his song The One I Love is the catchiest pop tune you'll ever hear while the music for Little Sister sounds like a Baroque Chamber piece. If he sang Vibrate or This Love Affair in Italian, you'd swear they were arias from an opera. One of my favorites, Go Or Go Ahead, builds to an emotional climax as powerful as any Coldplay tune although Rufus has a voice Chris Martin can only dream about. (Since he's got Gwyneth and gold records I think he's exceeded his dream quota).  Want is a dreamy exploration of what he wants and doesn't want. He wants to be his father with a sprinkling of his mother. He doesn't want to be John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, John Lithgow or Jane Curtain, but he'll settle for love. What do you call all that?

The two shows covered almost all the same material but I'll talk about the second night which  was the better for a number of reasons. Everything seemed more settled with the sound being better, the horns being more comfortable and the always charming Rufus being even more charming, dedicating songs to his sisters (Little Sister), Scooter Libby (Waiting For A Dream), the 19th century man who wrote the anonymous suicide letter which simply read "All this buttoning and unbuttoning" (This Love Affair), and was generally very relaxed and personable.

The material was mostly from his last two CD's, Want One and Want Two, including all the ones mentioned above, a new song called Between My Legs, two Leonard Cohen songs, Chelsea Hotel and Hallelujah (two of many high points of the evening), Poses, title cut from a previous CD, and a Christmas song from his mother's CD (His parents are Louden Wainwright and folk singer Anna McGarrigle).  I could have lived without the Christmas song.

He used various combinations of nine musicians playing guitars, banjo, drums, keyboards, bass, violin, and three horns as well as performing solo a number of times. As if that wasn't enough, he threw in some theatrics with the whole troupe donning togas and doing a dance routine while a loop played Old Whore's Diet.  He then dropped the white toga and was wearing a blue toga, which looked more like a blue evening gown, and performed Gay Messiah in a manner that drew a few gasps even from the "I've seen it all" NYC crowd. Two Roman soldiers tied him, in his blue gown, to a cross while he sang.  I hope he doesn't try that in Alabama.

Opening act Regina Spektor, on piano, did a nice set of quirky original material which reminded me of Nellie McKay. I'd see her again. The opener the night before was rock band OK GO. They reminded me of a really good garage band doing driving rock and roll. I think I would have loved them in the sixties but they held little interest for me these days. They did say that Rufus invited them for their dance ability an proceeded to perform an intentional pathetic dance routine which was very amusing.