Thursday, January 31, 2008
Old Springs Pike at Rockwood last night . . .
Down Below the Up Above
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Uptown, Downtown and All That Jazz
Bernie, Clare and I wandered up to Times Square, which is named after the New York Times in case you were wondering, Bernie.
Luiz Simas had seen Bernie's photos from Brazil over at The Fall Cafe--where all roads lead--and asked him to drop by Birdland and snap his shutter (if you know what I mean) (I meant take pictures, if you didn't know what I mean). Clare and I went along because Bernie's still learning this city and I rarely turn down a free ticket to music or, well, anything.
After Simas's set we wandered down to Joe's. Clare had never been there and wanted to see what all the fuss was about before she left the country. We got there just in time to catch the last few numbers by Rufus Cappadocia who was celebrating the release of his new CD, Songs For Cello. When we walked in, Bethany Yarrow was on stage playing bass and Clare was so delighted by them both that she dropped her jaw, picked it up and wandered into the VIP booth like her interest made her someone or something.
Last week Trevor had seen my drawing of the cello player in Dawn Landes's band and asked me what kind of cello he played. "I don't speak cello," I replied, "I love it, but my supply of applicable adjectives is limited." So, Trevor, if you're reading along at home, I still don't have an answer about that last one, but Rufus sounds like this.
The next set at Joe's was by Happy Apple, a modern jazz trio with an attitude. Bernie says he knew I was gonna like drawing the bass player, but I think he was just projecting on to the guy's Alice Cooper T-shirt. We were still sitting in the booth, joined by a couple of the band's friends from back in Minneapolis. "This is a good spot for taking pictures," said Bernie. "You two are up to some sort of collaboration," said Jo, but we're not giving anything away yet. "Play Toto!" yelled the woman next to us and they did. It did not sound like this, but their other stuff does.
Monday, January 28, 2008
I Love When It's My Way
Toshi Reagon and her band, Big Lovely, played four shows at Joe's from Thursday through last night, celebrating her birthday. She does this every year. Last night, the place was filled to overflowing as she brought her mother along to share the stage and had some good friends out in the crowd cheering her on.
If there's ever any doubt as to why Joe's Pub is better than your place, I submit as evidence last night's final show.
First of all, Toshi's mother is Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of Sweet Honey in The Rock and possessor of a voice and presence that commands attention, respect and surrender to the spirit. At one point during the encore, as the backup singers started up a gospel prayer and the band caught the groove and settled in for the journey, Bernice raised her eyebrows, lifted her hand and brought it down, stopping everyone in their tracks. I don't know if the tempo was wrong or the key didn't suit, but what wasn't right then sure was a moment later when they started again. I swear, The Public Theater may have levitated.
Secondly, you know you're at something special when Toshi introduces a song by telling a tale about how she was leaving a theater with Toni Morrison this one time and Ms. Morrison said that sometimes she wrote lyrics and Toshi said "send some to me" and anyway the next song is written by Toni and Toshi. Yes. That's special.
And then, after the song, Toshi gives a shout out to Toni Morrison who is sitting in the booth with Shanta and Bill right below Pascal, Lauren, Bernie and I and Toni points to Toshi and shouts "I write for you!" and Lauren practically faints.
Stephanie McKay played in the band for all four shows and on the third night she and Toshi duetted on a song that may have been the sexiest thing I've ever heard outside a bedroom.
Finally, Toshi herself is a force of nature. She's a diva, a concerned citizen, a voice in the wilderness, the leader of the pack and I will go anywhere anytime to be a part of the music and energy when she's standing at the center.
Happy Birthday, Toshi.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
We reconvened over at St. Paul's Wednesday night to do some more recording for Caithlin deMarrais's solo album. Trevor Exter was there because Caithlin found him (or refound him--they went to school together) because of my blog which may be the best thing that has emerged from this blog since I started it.
photo by Bernie DeChant.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
And Then There Were Three
Old Springs Pike played a surprise show last night at Rockwood. Not so much a surprise because they were scheduled and everything, but more a surprise because, when they were scheduled, they were a four piece and--from here on out--there's only three of them.
And there's nothing like a day's notice on the eve of a tour to really shake things up.
But, last night on the small stage at Rockwood with people crammed in on top of each other and an encore penned by John Denver but embedded in the Peter, Paul and Mary songbook, the three-part harmony was revelatory and the energy was (to me at least) more catchy than their recent residency at Joe's Pub.
There's something about crisis that can lift a soul and bond a group and maybe that's what's going on here.
Anyway, last night seemed like the start of something special . . .
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
It was a good holiday weekend for The Fall Cafe All Stars (as Bernie has begun calling us). The weekend started Thursday night at the Fall as we all celebrated Bernie's photo show. I got all dressed up with my my best jeans and tails, Jess worked the counter with Isaac and cousin Joey tried to keep track of who everyone was. Then, Balthrop played at Pete's Candy Store Friday night and they brought just enough members along to make sure that one or two audience members could fit in to the cramped back room to watch.
Then Saturday night, we all wandered into the city to see Jess on the big screen. The All Stars have been waiting for this since she won her fancy prize at Sundance last year. Well, I guess those judges know what they're talking about because she's pretty much a star now and when you see Teeth, you'll understand why. It's the indy film with bite and (in my unbiased opinion) the thing that makes it work best is the way Jess transforms the lead character from virginal, teenage celibate to the proud and capable owner of a Vaginal Dentata. It's a strong performance in a dark and funny film. But, yes, there's a lot of sausage links wasted along the way.
Finally, Sunday night, after the Packers collapse and the crowd at Angry Wade's sad dispersal into the frigid night, we braved the cold and walked over to Hank's Saloon to see Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers with our buddy Bob Hoffnar playing the pedal guitar, making it cry like a woman who got her purse stolen--which in retrospect was kind of prophetic. Oh, well at least Bernie and Pascal got a fine tour of the neighborhood garbage cans and Lauren got her purse back, even if it was missing all the chap-stick. (Also, if you see a thief-looking guy on the subway with a surplus of metrocards and his lips are all strawberry-smelling and unchapped, please call the police.)
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Meanwhile, At The Start Of Something Big . . .
Friday, January 18, 2008
Behind the Music
One of the shows I look forward to seeing every couple of months at Joe's is The Country Music Association Songwriter Series. Essentially, what happens is four or five songwriters you've never heard of show up and sing songs that are embedded in your brain even if you think you never listen to country music. They drink bourbon and tell fish out of water stories about their trip to New York and the songs they've written that big-name acts record and they laugh a lot because they're pretty successful without all of that messy fame.
Bob Di Pierro is one of the major organizers of and performers at the event (which this week was in honor of Rascall Flatts who will perform many of the same songs played Wednesday at Joe's, tonight at Madison Square Garden). He and his gang may be facing less obscurity now that they've got their own reality television program, but hopefully they can continue to play the underdog, because no one will pay to see a winner. Just ask Rascall Flatts.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Brothers in Blood
Weimar, New York hosted by Justin Bond from last week.
The night featured performances political and personal and didn't end until the fat lady screamed.
Weimar is in the zeitgeist, jah? Seems that every time I turn around people are turning to Weimar as a touchstone, a dark place where art shines despite it all . . . Ghost Runner says we're all degenerates.
I'll drink to that.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Global Fest hit Webster Hall Sunday night. 12 bands from here, there and most everywhere on three stages playing music and mingling in ways inspiring and surprising.
It was cousin Joey's first time with an all-access pass and we ran around from stage to stage, mostly going where John or Sara told us to. For a full summary of the night, fully informed by a press packet and a trained ear, you can read Jon Pareles's take over at the New York Times. The Joe's Pub site has links to videos by all the participants. I especially recomend checking out Vinicio Capossela (pictured above) and the amazing Toumast (below).
Monday, January 14, 2008
Abigail Washburn's Sparrow Quartet with Bela Fleck at Joe's Friday night, debuting songs from their forthcoming album.
Abigail's set, featuring her blend of Bluegrass and Mandarin folk was an excellent warm up for a weekend of musical variety culminating in last night's Global Fest at Webster Hall. I'll have those drawings up tomorrow . . .
Friday, January 11, 2008
Thursday, January 10, 2008
"I think that guy playing bass with Dawn Landes was here last night playing with The Now Ensemble, " I said to Lauren.
"Did you draw him last night?" she asked.
"I think so," I said and showed her the drawing.
"It looks like him."
"I think it is."
Later that night, after the Balthrop show and a brief stop at Rockwood, Bernie and I were heading back to Brooklyn. As we passed over the Manhattan Bridge in the back of a taxi, he showed me some of the pictures snapped from the evening and we continued a conversation we had begun about caricature earlier in the day.
"Faces can be distracting places," I said. "Sometimes when I'm drawing, I have to only focus on the way the hair lies and worry about placing the eye and the bend of cheek and the bump of the nose later."
"My drawing professor used to say that you should draw what you see, not what you think you know," he said.
"I guess; When you really look close, nothing looks the way you think it does."
"This is a good shot," said Bernie as we zoomed in on a picture of Jeremiah, frozen in a moment between guitar notes, smiling with a room full of listeners, distracted and attentive and waitresses asking for orders and a club-owner whose feet dangle into the shot on a street near the bottom of Manhattan where it's easy to get distracted by both the forest and the trees.
Monday, January 07, 2008
Friday night we all gathered over at St. Paul's to record a couple of songs for Caithlin de Marrais's new solo album.
Konrad was there, telling me all about how he was hoping to hear Balthrop one of these days. "You're playing with just about half of them," I said, gesturing to Josh, Lauren, Pascal and Lara who were running through the song with Frally and Bob Hoffnar while Kyle set levels.
At the end of the night--for the last take of the second song recorded--I wandered to the back to take in the whole scene with Kyle who was adding a note or two from the piano by the door at the other end of the church. By then, we had mostly finished up the cookies that Caithlin had brought, Frally and Lara had wandered off and the radiators had long since stopped whatever resistance they were offering. Between and around the musicians and Kyle and I was a holy space that I don't really believe in but I do respect, mostly because sometimes it allows the Mystery to be celebrated in surprising and beautiful ways.