October 2004 back
Bruce Hornsby : Oct 28th at Zankel Hall (Photo courtesy of J. Rose)
At the beginning of this month I saw Lizz Wright at Joe's Pub and wrote that there couldn't have been a better way to start the month. I was out late Tuesday evening having seen Bruce Hornsby at the Blue Note and Raul Malo at Fez and was thinking that there couldn't be a better ending to the month. I was wrong!
Wednesday morning I was listening to Claudia Marshall, on WFUV, and heard her announce that she had tickets for the first 10 callers for Bruce Hornsby at Zankel Hall and that the tickets included seeing the sound check, meeting Bruce and getting a signed copy of his new CD!
I immediately broke the law and called while driving and a guy answered the phone and said "You're number three, can you hold"? I said yes and heard click, and then dial tone!!! I pulled over and proceeded to call the station thirteen times in a row until I got through and they said "Oh, number three, glad you called back". (I owe the music gods a goat!)
My friend Les and I arrived at Zankel Hall and watched the sound check with the other "winners" and Claudia. After the sound check, Bruce came up and chatted with us and signed copies of his new CD, Halcyon Days. He was very warm and gracious. I told him I loved the show at the Blue Note Tuesday and when he was leaving he said "Thanks for coming to the Blue Note". The other winners were also very warm and gracious and in some cases colorful (You know who you are). It was a pleasure meeting them.
This was a completely different experience from Tuesday night which was Bruce with a jazz band. This time he played solo piano, with a little synthesizer on top of the piano, and did lots of covers, some of his big hits and a number of songs from the new CD.
Some of the covers included Sugaree (for the Deadheads), John Sebastian's Darlin' Be Home Soon and some brief segues into Higher Ground, First There Is a Mountain and even some of Anton Webern's variation #2. He also featured a good portion of the new album including Gonna Be Some Changes, Heir Gordon, Halcyon Days and Dreamland. Among the hits were The Way It Is and Mandolin Rain plus Shawdowland, which he wrote for a Spike Lee movie.
Before playing The End of the Innocence, he told the story of sitting with Don Henley in the front row at the Grammies and seeing Bette Midler beat them for two Grammies including "song of the year". With a sly grin, he added that he never hears her song any more but hears their song all the time.
His days with The Dead have had a lasting influence as you'll never hear a song quite like you expect it. For some casual fans that might be disappointing, but I think it shows the incredible depth of his talents and I really love it.
This Saturday is my birthday, I think I'll take a nap.
Raul Malo : Oct 26th at Fez
Raul Malo, best known as lead singer of The Mavericks, is one of the great voices in popular music today. His music ranges from rock, pop and country to Roy Orbison-like ballads and often includes lots of Latin horns and rhythms. In fact, he's been compared to Roy Orbison so often that he did his version of Roy Orbison singing Puff the Magic Dragon. Very funny.
His live shows usually have a big sound with lots of horns and percussion but this show was just Raul with his nylon string guitar. That was enough!
His set covered Mavericks tunes and songs from his solo album, plus songs from an upcoming solo effort which will be recordings of some of his favorite tunes including an Everly Brothers tune and Randy Newman's Feels Like Home. He also did a few songs in Spanish including the much recorded Besame Mucho, which is one of my favorites.
One older guy, who was either drunk, goofy or both, kept yelling "Play a Buck Owens song". Raul ignored him at first, then made some polite but clear remarks to get him to stop, then played Feelings to show he can be just as annoying. Finally, Raul just confronted the guy and asked "Did you get a special ticket that I don't know about, that says "Entitled to one Buck Owens song?" Then, after a good audience laugh, Raul played Buck Owen's Crying Time! Talk about being an enabler!
Opening the night was Holly Williams. (granddaughter of country legend Hank Williams). Holly is more of a singer/songwriter than country singer and she vaguely reminded me of Melissa Etheridge (although certainly not on the same level). On first listen I thought she had potential although I can't say that she really grabbed me.
Bruce Hornsby : Oct 26th at The Blue Note
Bruce Hornsby is playing three shows at different venues in NYC this week. This show featured his jazz side and included the great jazz sax player Bill Evans as a special guest along with Bruce's quintet.
Bruce's impressive career started with the mega hit The Way It Is from his first album with The Range in 1986. He also wrote the Don Henley hit The End of the Innocence and was an honorary member of The Grateful Dead, playing over 100 gigs with them, in the early nineties.
As soon as I heard that he would be playing this small club, I called for tickets and was too late. (Of course tickets had sold out almost instantly). But the Blue Note lets in about 30 or 40 people at the bar on a first come first serve basis and I decided right then that I would get there early and see this show. I am sooo happy that I did!
I stood in line and then sat at the bar with the nicest group of people, all of whom thought it was perfectly reasonable to show up for a show three hours before show time. (Great minds think alike!) It turned out that three of us, including me, had birthdays this week which just added to the sense of fun. Due to my position, the best picture I got was in the bar mirror. (You can see Bruce's curly hair between the two bottles)
The sets at The Blue Note tend to be on the short side, and this one was particularly short, so he didn't play a long list of songs, but the entire set was brilliant. Bruce is no doubt one of the best pianists on the planet and his band was so good that several times I drifted off into "the zone". He featured a few songs from his new release, Halcyon Days, including the beautiful Dreamland and Gonna Be Some Changes Made, and a sprinkling of songs from other albums including Talk of the Town, Long Tall Cool One, Spider Fingers and The Changes.
There's much more I could tell you about this show but I'm seeing him again at Zankel (wait till you hear how that happened!), so I'll go into more detail then. I also have another show to review for this night. (See Raul Malo above)
Richard Thompson (w/Judith Owen) : Oct 23rd at Outpost in the Burbs
Question: Where would you have to go to be able to hear a live performance of Cole Porter's Night and Day, Nat King Cole's Orange-Colored Sky, Prince's Kiss, The Beatles It Won't Be Long, So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo by Orazio Vecchi (1550-1605), traditional song Shenandoah, Gilbert and Sullivan's There Is Beauty (from the Mikado) and Brittany Spear's Oops! I Did It Again?
(HINT: This is a review of a Richard Thompson show)
When the last millennium was coming to an end, Playboy Magazine asked various artists to pick their "10 best songs of the millennium". Richard, having a mischievous sense of humor, took them literally and sent in 10 songs covering a period of a thousand years. They declined to publish his list, but he thought it was an intriguing idea to do a show based on that idea. And so was born 1000 Years of Popular Music.
Richard is a virtuoso guitarist. Rolling Stone ranked him #19 in their 100 greatest guitarists poll. He's also a great songwriter, but this show contained none of his original material. His very droll British sense of humor, as described by John Platt of WFUV-FM, is always part of the show and at times the audience was bent over with laughter. There were numerous quips and amusing stories but one joke he told actually got four major laughs. He said everyone in Europe are friends now, because of the European Union, so nobody mentions WWII anymore. But there is a joke going around describing the difference between Heaven and Hell from a European perspective. In Heaven, you're greeted at the gates by the British, the French do the cooking, the Italians are in charge of entertainment and the Germans organize everything. In Hell, you're greeted at the gates by the French (Hysterical laughter), the British do the cooking (more laughter) the Germans are in charge of entertainment (again) and the Italians organize everything! He had to wait a few moments for the crowd to regain their composure. Before playing a Honky-Tonk song, Richard quipped that Honky-Tonk music was big from 1958 to 1959 when, unfortunately, they ran out of lyrics.
He was accompanied Debra Dobkin on percussion and vocals and Judith Owen playing some electric piano and vocals. The vocal harmonies were downright stunning. Judith Owen knocked our socks off singing lead vocals on several songs including the 1959 Julie London hit, Cry Me a River. Debra Dobkin also had a wonderful voice and it was a joy to watch her enter "The Zone" while playing her drums. (I've talked before about the zone being that place where you're carried away by the music and cease to be aware of space and time. My goal at every show is to reach The Zone.)
This was a night to remember. The most eclectic collection of music ever assembled performed by master musicians in a church filled to bursting with people who wouldn't have been anywhere else. This show will be at McCarter Theatre in two weeks. I highly recommend it.
Lucy Kaplansky (w/Duke Levine) & Richard Shindell : Oct 22nd at Outpost in the Burbs
The Outpost in the Burbs is a music series at the First Congregational Church in Montclair NJ. Before the show started, Reverend Scott addressed the crowd and announced, among other things, that all people are welcome in this church regardless of sexual orientation, age, race, ethnic background, economic status and physical or mental abilities. It was an unusually moving welcome to a concert.
A majority of the artists that I write about are not exactly household words, but if you've been following my musical odyssey, you've noticed certain names popping up on a regular basis. Lucy and Richard are two of those names. Both are gifted songwriters with good voices and impressive guitar skills. (I'd give Lucy the slight nod for better voice and Richard for guitar skills). Sometimes I discover artists whose work connects with me so dramatically, that I can't help but to try to see them as often as possible. It's part of my music addiction, started by the Beatles, as described in Where It Begins on my homepage. Richard and Lucy are two of those artists.
Lucy opened the show by announcing "Tell Reverend Scott that this is my kind of church....and I'm Jewish". Her set consisted of fan favorite Ten Year Night, along with several covers and a bunch of songs from her new CD, The Red Thread.
The covers included a Greg Brown song and Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire in which her sidekick, Duke Levine, brought the house down with his guitar work. Very impressive! She also talked about having adopted a baby from China who has been named Molly, after Lucy's grandmother, and that The Red Thread is from an old Chinese belief that every baby is born with a red thread connecting it to every person who will be part of their lives.
Richard began his set by saying "this is a veiled indictment of a semi-elected public official" and proceeded to play Fernario. The lyrics include Brave my love, but false the king - False his wars, and false his dawn - Damn the gray that gains the sky - Damn the sun, the king's cold eye. Very poetic for a guy who is more of a storyteller.
He joked that the next song will be one of the good ones and played Pete Seeger's Big Muddy (a protest song that has, unfortunately, become relevant again). The joke ran for a few more songs as he announced "this one's always been a disappointment" and "this one is better than the last". Like Lucy, Richard's set highlighted mostly songs from his new CD, Vuelta, along with some covers including Paul Simon's America.
Richard is one of the few songwriters, maybe the only one, whose stories can bring tears to my eyes. His characters face hardship and cruelty with a courage and determination that's inspiring. In Fishing, which he didn't play, an illegal immigrant is trying to be coerced and then threatened to give up information about his friends. His response to his interrogator is that his fishing nets are waiting for him at home beneath the sea. In Transit, a nun with a flat tire is being cursed by passersby for causing a traffic jam. When she finishes changing her tire, she calmly continues her journey to the men's prison where she directs the choir. There isn't anyone else out there writing quite like this. Joan Baez has called Richard the best songwriter since Bob Dylan, but I think his style is more reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot.
This fix should be more than enough to hold me until tomorrow night when we'll be seeing Richard Thompson. Don't bogart that singer. (drug joke from days gone by) :-)
Sam Phillips : Oct 19th at Zankel Hall
I first discovered Sam Phillips in 1994 when she released a great album of Beatlesque pop tunes called Martinis & Bikinis. On hearing that album, the description "Beatlesque pop tunes" was very obvious. Her new material is not a picture as easily painted.
Her recent album " a boot and a shoe", is possibly my favorite of this year (it's certainly the one I've listened to the most). The songs are simple, elegant and beautiful - relaxed waltzes, torch songs and "ompah" or "junk band" songs done in a way to make them sound sophisticated. Her lyrics are thought provoking and very poetic and her melodies stay with you a long time. I was still humming Fan Dance a full day after this show.
She was accompanied by Patrick Warren on piano and pump organ, an amazing percussionist named Jay Belarose, who played assorted drums and extraterrestrial objects and The Section String Quartet. She uses the strings on the album and it was a great addition to the live show. She mostly performed songs from the new album but included Fan Dance, Taking Pictures and Animals on Wheels from earlier albums.
Her subtle and dry sense of humor was evident when she sang the lyric "When I see you in a crowd" then paused and casually scanned the crowd to see if he was there. Or when she performed Animals on Wheels, accompanied by music form a micro cassette recorder which she held up to the microphone, and she would shake the recorder at the vibrato parts. It's a funny sight. When referring to her breakup with husband T-Bone Burnett she said "When you're going through hell... keep going" (she attributed the quote to Winston Churchill). She later sent her love and dedicated a song to him.
This was our first time in Zankel Hall (under Carnegie Hall) and we were very impressed. Judy said the design, with lots of wood, reminded her of a mini NJPAC. The room seats 600 and the sound was excellent. We will certainly be seeing Sam next time around regardless of where she plays.
Acoustic Strawbs : Oct 15th Outpost in the Burbs
The Strawbs started out in the late 60's as a mostly folk, bluegrass and skiffle band. After the addition of keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, who later achieved great fame with Yes, their sound began to include a progressive rock feel associated with bands such as Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer and The Moody Blues.
Although they had several hits on the UK charts, they never made as big an impact in America. If their name doesn't sound familiar, it's not that you've forgotten them, you probably never heard of them in the first place. And that's too bad. This is a great band.
About half an hour before we were supposed to leave for the show, I went into the bedroom to find Judy sleeping, surrounded by Nikki and Brea. I thought "Uh Oh, I might be going by myself". I woke her and asked if she was going, and in her sleepy voice she said "Time to make the doughnuts".
The opening act was Little Toby Walker, a finger picking and slide guitar player who played original blues tunes. I'm not ready to run out and buy his CD, but I have to admit he was an extraordinary guitarist. After a brief intermission, our old friend Pete Fornatale from WFUV, got up on stage to introduce The Strawbs. As soon as Judy spied Pete, she lit up and said "Pete's here"! (After the first song she ran into the hall to give him a hug) Now she was awake!
The Strawbs opened the set with "Benedictus", one of our all time favorite songs. Seeing Pete and hearing that song was already worth the price of admission but the best was yet to come.
The acoustic Strawbs are Dave Cousins on guitar , banjo and vocals; Dave Lambert on guitar and vocals and Chas Cronk on guitar, bass and harmony. Their three-part harmonies gave me goose bumps and Dave Lambert's guitar work was so beautiful, tasteful and impressive, that it made the difference between a really good act and a great one.
Dave Cousins is a great story teller and between songs he would give some background on the origin of the song. He started talking about how this was the first time he had ever been in the Northeast during the autumn color change and then proceeded to play the Autumn trilogy which includes "The Winter Long". This week is our 24th anniversary and The Winter Long was our wedding song. It was quite a thrill.
If you are familiar with the band, you might be interested to know that they also played Lay Down, Midnight Sun, and Down By the Sea, among others, plus a few from their new album called Deja Fou.
After the almost two hour set, we had a nice conversation with John Hawken, former keyboard player with The Strawbs (after Rick Wakeman), who wrote the Heroines Theme portion of the Autumn trilogy. He lives in Metuchen now and plays with a blues band called Blues Day (I think) who are performing at the Pine Tavern on Route 34 in Old Bridge on Saturday, November 6th. We just might be there. We also briefly chatted with bass player Chas Cronk. Both very nice gentlemen.
As we left the hall, I said to Judy, "You know they're at Satalla on November 13th" and she said "We're there"! (I think she liked it!)
Morrisey : Oct 10th at Radio City Music Hall
The last time I saw Morrisey was in 1986 when he was still the front man for the very influential alternative rock band The Smiths. I always loved the Smiths although they certainly were not for everybody. Morrisey tended to write songs from the perspective of the lonely, misunderstood outcast. With lyrics like "I know I'm unlovable, you don't have to tell me" or "Please, please, please, let me get what I want this time, Lord knows it would be the first time" and a voice that was sometimes more droning and wailing than singing, he's not everybody's "cup of tea". But I always liked his voice. I found it very soothing and I always felt that his lyrics had a unique insight into desperation and longing.
After the breakup of the Smiths, Morrisey had some success as a solo artist before gradually fading from the limelight. Then, earlier this year, he released his first album in about eight years and to my surprise, and maybe his surprise, it took off! He recently played two sold out shows at the Apollo Theatre and now two more at Radio City Music Hall.
His new music seems to be a little more hopeful with uncharacteristic titles such as "I Like You" and "Let Me Kiss You". But on closer inspection, there are still hints of our old self-loathing friend. In "Let Me Kiss You" he sings "Close your eyes and think of someone physically attractive... and let me kiss you". You have to love this guy! (at least I do).
He played with an excellent five piece band, which was too loud, and did a mix of his solo material and a handful of Smiths songs including "How Soon Is Now", and "Bigmouth Strikes Again". I knew I would enjoy the Smith's tunes but I also very much liked many of the new tunes. He mentioned at one point that his friend, Nancy Sinatra, was in the audience and that her version of "Let Me Kiss You" was being released in the UK this week. At another point, a fan ran on stage and jumped on Morrisey to embrace him, but actually ended up tackling him. Security dragged him away while Morrisey quipped "That wasn't very nice".
Speaking of security, they actually "patted down" every person entering the theatre looking for cameras or other banned items. It was simultaneously reassuring and annoying.
These tickets were freebies from my membership at 90.7 WFUV and, as usual, my thanks goes to them.
Vance Gilbert w/ Ellis Paul and Jill Sobule : Oct 9th at Monmouth University
Almost exactly one year ago, Judy and I went to see these three artists when they shared the stage together for the first time in Montclair NJ. We had so much fun at that show (see review Oct 2003), that we couldn't resist buying tickets as soon as we heard that they would be having their first reunion just down the Parkway in Long Branch.
A week before the show, I received an e-mail from Jill's part-time road manager, Tony, telling me that he had quoted my review from last year's show extensively in his e-mails promoting this show, and that he would like to offer me complimentary tix and Jill's new CD, Underdog Victorious, as a thank you. I answered that although I already had tickets, I would accept his offer and invite my sister Terry and her guy, Howie, down for the weekend.
Judy and I have been fans of Jill and Vance for quite some time, but last year's show was the first time we had seen Ellis. I remember thinking after that show that he had a nice voice and did a good job, but I wasn't blown away. I've changed my mind. At this show, he kicked butt! After every one of his songs, Judy and I looked at each other and said "That was great". Vance and Jill were also great but that was expected. At intermission, I asked Terry and Howie what they thought and Terry said "they're all awesome"!
All three of these artists are excellent songwriters with beautiful voices and tremendous guitar skills. They helped out each other with harmonies and guitar work without actually learning each others songs, which made for some surprisingly beautiful moments mixed with a few unpolished ones. The less than perfect attempts were just part of the overall relaxed atmosphere and spirit of fun. Vance actually quipped early in the show "We don't care what happens, we already have your money"! Of course, that's not true. They could never have put on such a great show if they didn't care.
This show wasn't quite as hysterical as last years but there were plenty of amusing moments such as when Vance sang Cat Stevens "Moon Shadow" but changed the lyrics to "I'm being followed by a sky marshal" or when Vance and Jill did a pas de deux while Ellis sang.
Road manager Tony told me after the show that they have plans to do more of these shows and will sit down together and work out some of their songs, but not all of them. Sometimes being spontaneous can have surprising results and they wouldn't want to completely remove that factor from the equation.
Lizz Wright : October 3rd at Joe's Pub
When I was a youngster, I had a grandmother who read everything. She could discuss the life of Oscar Wilde or John Lennon, Greek Mythology, politics, history, art or baseball, to name a few. Whenever she walked in on me and my friends, she would always say "What are you doing, plotting the revolution?"
Growing up, she had dreamed of becoming a doctor, but being from a poor Irish family, and being a woman, that was never really an option. So she thought maybe nursing, but because she was partially deaf she was not accepted in nursing school. She eventually found herself working in laundry rooms of various hospitals. I'm fairly sure that she was the only person in the laundry room who had read all the works of George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce.
I'm reminded of all this because my dates for this show were my good friends Anita and Maria, and their long time friend, Gigi, who I was meeting for the first time. Anita and Maria are media analysts who, like my grandmother, might be described as Renaissance women. Our lengthy conversation before the show included an analysis of the things Bush and Kerry did right or wrong in their debate. Anita proclaimed that Bush's biggest mistake was that none of his people told him that during the debate he is no longer president, just another candidate. Maria added that at least middle America got a glimpse of the Bush we've known for a long time. It was all very stimulating and if my grandmother had walked in and asked "What are you doing, plotting the revolution?" I'd have answered "Well... yes"!
If you've been following my adventures, you already know that I think Lizz Wright is one of the great new voices in music today. Some comments by my guests include Anita saying that Lizz should be performing in Carnegie Hall with full orchestra. Gigi described her as a gifted vocalist and commented on how the audience seemed mesmerized. Maria was also very impressed with the voice.
All three agreed that with such a great voice she should include some of the great standards in her repertoire. (I also agree) Except for "Nature Boy" and the traditional spiritual "Walk with me", her set consisted of original material and contemporary songs. (One new song was written for her by Chocolate Genius). Gigi's favorite of the evening was Nature Boy and she noted that she's not likely to wake up humming any of the other tunes. I countered that it's common when hearing an evening of new music that by the end of the evening it can be difficult to distinguish one song from another, but her point was well taken. Lizz is a great singer but she's not Cole Porter.
She didn't perform several of her more jazzy numbers, such as Afro Blue or Salt, probably because her combo of two acoustic guitars and a percussionist was more suited for her more soulful tunes and pop tunes, but I'm not complaining. I would be content to hear that voice sing nursery rhymes.
October is going to be a very musical month for me and it couldn't have gotten off to a better start.