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From Donuts to Dodos

10 May

As soon as I got out of the passenger side of my buddy DVP’s Chevy Astro Van, and heard a distinct hissing sound, the evening took a sideways path. Sure enough, the right front tire was bleeding air at an alarming rate, and as luck would have it, the spare tire was up under the van’s rear-end, locked solid with a rusty wing-nut, which despite spirited bashing with a lug wrench wasn’t budging. So with the concert start time approaching, the decision was made to call AAA, and head inside to see what’s what. A cold Sierra Nevada helped ease the frustration a bit, but better was the call from our mechanic to say he was en-route. Perhaps this mishap could be put right in time for DVP to catch the main attraction. Oh yeah, did I mention that our purpose for the evening was to see Neko Case and her band perform at the Egg in Albany? Image

Indeed, that is how we came to be parked with a now flat right front tire in the massive underground garage under the Empire Plaza. So Dave headed off to meet the mechanic, and I promised to do what I could to delay the beginning of the show until he was finished. As it turned out, the conclusion of the tire travail, and the commencement of the program were pretty much in sync. And that was probably partially due to the fact that Neko Case was having her own problems involving a “broken”band member. Bassist Tom V. Ray, was apparently unable to perform his duties this evening, of which we learned early in the set when after breaking a guitar string, Neko lamented that they were breaking everything, including the bass player. Stepping in to cover his parts on several songs was the bass player from opening act the Dodos, whom I must confess I did not pay much attention to. They seemed to be well received though and were praised here in the local Daily Gazette. But enough about all of that and the otherwise, the show must go on and it did and it was swell. We were treated to selections from the latest opus, “The Worse Things Get..”, including my faves “Night Still Comes”, “City Swans”, and the set ending rave up “Ragtime”. Other highlights came from “Fox Confessor..”, “Hold On, Hold On” and “Teenage Feeling”, and “Middle Cyclone”, “Tornado Loves You” and “Pharaohs”. The encore began with Neko and band-mate Eric Bachman performing his wistful composition “All Summer Long” to great effect. It was clear from the music, to the banter, to the borrowing of opening band members, that Neko felt comfortable and in control at the Egg, a venue for which she seems to have great affection. And her audience returned that same level of affection. So all’s well that ends well..DVP and AAA ended up replacing the flat tire with the recalcitrant spare (as in donut) and we gingerly made our way home, with echos of that fiery voice for company. Update : Here is a more complete review of the musical portion of this event, or the real reason we attended! Thanks Fred!

Breakup Songs about Gun Control

28 Mar

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As the crowd slowly drifted in toward their seats and the appointed start time came and went, I could sense the growing unease on the part of my companion. Not a big fan of live music venues, she is a stickler for prompt performances, which is tough in rock and roll. Nevertheless by the end of the evening, I could tell that she was glad that she was in the audience for one of the more entertaining shows we’ve seen recently. Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle brought their “Songs and Stories” tour to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall last evening, and it was a charmer. As long as you weren’t put off by the steady barrage of f-bombs dropped by Steve throughout his various vignettes. Or the somewhat awkward vibe given off by Shawn Colvin, as if she knew she couldn’t quite compete with either Steve’s songs or his stories. Nevertheless, it is clear that he is a huge fan of hers, and made sure to mention that her cover of his song “Someday” was one of two bright points of light during an unrelenting stretch of personal darkness. Speaking of awkward, the show commenced with an odd choice of covers, a somewhat disjointed rendition of “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers, which was followed by an extended riff from Steve about guns and the writing of “Devil’s Right Hand”.  The pair then traded stories and solo renditions of various tunes from their extensive catalogs, highlighted by knockout versions of “Goodbye”, “Crazy” (by Gnarls Barkley, not Willie Nelson), “Sunny Came Home”, and “Galway Girl”. They teamed up for “Someday”, “You’re Still Standing There”, and for the encore “Baby’s in Black”. They finished with a run through “Copperhead Road”, which lacked the visceral punch of the full band version, but apparently Steve is contractually obligated to play it. In the end we were treated to a dozen and a half songs, some stories both hilarious and touching and given a glimpse inside that mysterious process known as songwriting by two of the best in the game. Judging from the reaction of both the audience and the performers, everyone got their money’s worth! For another view from the seats, please visit here.

It’s Who He Is

4 Feb

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It’s always reassuring to see your convictions affirmed by a crowded room. That was definitely the case at the recent performance by the ageless Garland Jeffreys at the Linda Auditorium (WAMC Studios). The place was pretty much packed with folks, clearly familiar with Garland’s extensive catalog, and eager to show their appreciation. I had decided several weeks ago that this was a show not to miss and despite the bitter cold temperatures and a long day of driving in my rearview, I was proven correct. Garland and his very talented bandmates on guitar, keyboards and percussion, played a lengthy set, highlighted by several selections from his new record
Truth Serum” as well a nice mix of older faves. Standouts included the season appropriate opener “Coney Island Winter”, “The Contortionist”, dedicated to long time pal Lou Reed, and “It’s What I Am”, complete with Godfather of Soul like stage moves.  His encores included Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” and his signature cover of ? and the Mysterian’s “96 Teardrops”, which got the crowd dancing in any available space. Clearly this septuagenarian has no plans to fade away. In fact Garland Jeffreys delivered a thoroughly convincing argument that he be allowed to remain who he is for as long as he feels like it.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

10 Dec

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So I had received a somewhat cryptic message from my buddy Tim Heap back in October. I was concerned initially that he was to be the bearer of bad news, but happily his message was one of glad tidings. Without giving away any details, he recommended that I renew my oft repeated plan of spending the post Thanksgiving Saturday night in New London, CT. His band HEAP, was playing in town, and there just might be some special guests. As luck would have it, I had already planned to be in the Ct, seeing family, so I made the trip over to New London to do the usual stuff. Visit the Dutch Tavern and Mr. G’s, shop at the great Telegraph Records, and generally reacquaint myself with my adopted “hometown”. Eventually it was time to head to the Six String Cafe (formerly the Bank St), where it was clear that the word was out that the “boys” were back in town! It didn’t hurt that music journalist Rick Koster from the New London Day had written a terrific piece about the show. Who says no one reads the paper anymore? The joint was jumpin’ and everyone was buzzing about seeing the debut of the 3 Pack. The who? The 3 Pack, which is made up of the remaining members of New London pub rock legends, “The Reducers”. Read Rick’s article for the back-story, this post is about the experience of seeing three lifelong friends return to doing what they love best, bashing out no frills, gotta dance, rock and roll. No Reducers songs either, which the capacity crowd, didn’t seem to mind at all. They were too busy bopping to several new numbers and a clutch of great covers from artists such as Buddy Holly and Mink Deville. But the best part was feeling the joy that was clearly evident on the faces of both the band and the audience. I had spoken to Peter and Tom, earlier in the day about what was taking place, and it was clear that for the first time in many years, they had some jitters. But they didn’t last beyond the first tune, and then it was like old times. Except it wasn’t, because of course we were missing Steve and that added a touch of bittersweet to the mix. Nevertheless we focused on the hear and now, and reveled in the moment. Lots of familiar faces from previous Thanksgiving shows made it truly a place where everyone knew your name. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how great the guys from HEAP sounded! Tim and a revolving cast of band-mates have been playing thrashy hook filled pop, for close to 20 years, and the current lineup, maybe the best yet! They delivered two sets of tunes, that make you sing along as the suds go down faster each pour. Thanks to those guys for helping to make this night happen, and especially to Tim for making sure I got a heads up!

All Just to Get to You (with thanks to Hugh)

15 Nov

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Fairly early in Joe Ely‘s sublime set last evening at new Collar City performance space, the Hangar, he launched into an extended yarn about a spur of the moment trip he and a buddy took to see the fall foliage in New England. Without a whole lot of money between them, they somehow managed to hitch rides, including several by train, all the way up to New York City from Amarillo. The trip culminated with the experience of busking on a street corner adjacent to Carnegie Hall. Many years later, while playing a gig inside that hallowed venue with the Flatlanders, he was able to say that this was the second time he had played Carnegie Hall…
Stories such as these are from where great songs are born, and Joe Ely has lived a life that is worthy of some great songs. He shared a clutch of them with a large and appreciative audience, who responded with acclaim and suggestions for song choices. Favorites of this scribe included a couple from the new CD “Satisfied at Last”, the tender but tough “Leo and Leona” and the eulogy by shotgun, “You Can Bet I’m Gone”, classics such as “Letters to Laredo”, “Dallas” and “All Just to Get to You”. Accompanied by obscenely talented Jeff Plankenhorn on Dobro, mandolin and electric guitar, each song matched story-lines with music that only served to enhance each performance. And since I had the pleasure of experiencing it all with my buddy “Jimmy 2 Books”, there was of course another story to the evening, but I will let him tell you that one. All in all a terrific evening of first rate music to kick off what I truly hope will be the establishment of a great relationship between the Ale House, the Hangar, and an audience hungry for evenings like this on a regular basis. If you missed it, don’t make the same mistake twice! And check out this great piece on Joe Ely from Nippertown, who will soon also provide a review of the show that includes the playlist. The tour continues tonight in Maine and tomorrow in Northhampton, MA. 

Preaching the Gospel

7 Nov

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Elvis Costello traveled to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall to deliver a message, and by the end of his 2 hour performance, the sold out audience had received it with unanimous approval! “This is a gospel show”, an oft repeated statement throughout the evening, was Elvis’s way of sharing with us the zeal and passion he has for his chosen craft. That feeling was amplified by the fact that he was clearly inspired by his surroundings, the expertly  restored and acoustically superb Music Hall. He offered selections from every corner of his vast songbook, some tender, some rough and ragged, all delivered with emotional honesty and enthusiasm. Highlights included, “All This Useless Beauty”, “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror, “Hoover Factory”, and a particularly gripping take on “Shipbuilding”. On the raucous side, we were gifted with “Monkey to Man”, “Less than Zero” and a spine tingling re-working of “Watching the Detectives”, complete with looped guitar riffs, underpinning some reverb drenched leads, and a vocal that gave no indication of the song’s vintage. He even pulled off some respectable whistling, none better than during a heartfelt take on Nat King Cole’s “Walking My Baby Back Home”, dedicated to wife Diana Krall. And even this “know nothing about gear” guy was impressed by the guitars he chose, nothing was wasted or overindulgent, song matching sonic. 

I have been blessed with seeing some tremendous live shows this year, and this was without a doubt right up at the top. A gospel show indeed, where the message is received by the ears, the mind and above all the heart. Others apparently agree.

Moments of Focus

4 Jul

So imagine my delighted surprise a week or so ago, when while perusing the Chicago Reader web page ahead of our trip to the Windy City. One of the featured shows was taking place the day I arrived. A performance of Big Star’s “Third” the snake bitten final release featuring original members. Despite containing some of Alex Chilton’s most emotionally complex tunes, it failed to secure a label release for many years, and has hence been released with various sequences. I will admit I am less familiar with the album than the first two and in fact do not currently own a copy, nevertheless I was excited. And who wouldn’t be with an announced lineup that included Jody Stephens, Mitch Easter, Chris Stamey, Ken Stringfellow to name a few? And boy did they deliver. After taking the stage a little past 8pm (geezer’s loved that), they began with a take on Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy”. They proceeded through all of Third, using their own sequence, with various vocalists, including Gary Louris (Jayhawks) and Sally Timms (Mekons) being two of the most successful with the material. The show on a whole had a slightly ramshackle quality to it, which only added charm and color. The third “half” of the set showcased a clutch of Big Star songs, including “In the Street” which I had the pleasure of hearing Wilco perform the Friday previous at Solid Sound! All in all a very special night of music in a great venue. For a more polished review including the complete setlist, please visit here or here.