Nicole Hale, singer, pianist, guitar and accordion player extraordinaire put together and released ‘House With The Little Rose Garden’ in 2015 on glorious gold vinyl!! (available on iTunes and bandcamp, also in digital format). The album was tastefully mixed and produced by Bob Hoag at Flying Blanket Recording in Mesa, AZ. I’ve known Nicole for years. She used to host an open mic at the now defunct R Bar, 218 Bowery in NYC. Nicole has always been prolific, she once handed me a CD of rough recordings of hers which amounts to about 2 albums worth of material. I’ve always been stricken by Nicole’s voice. It’s warm and familiar i.e. immediately welcoming and yet drenched in a history. As I’ve come to learn more about her (personally) it has added a depth to my appreciation for her songs. These are mostly piano based songs, the title track and ‘Find My Way Back to You’ being the exceptions. The instrumentation (piano, keyboard, guitar, Wurlitzer on ‘Hardest of Hearts’, accordion on ‘Never Before’, bass, trumpet and sax on ‘Let Me Be’, plenty of pedal steel) and arrangements of said instrumentation are so well balanced and necessarily so as to support on one hand the deep dark songs and on the other the ethereal, amorphous songs. This is a bluesy, felt set of songs. Sad or downtempo songs have an oft unheralded power to uplift when properly crafted (as these are). Nicole manages to inhabit and report from a dark world without seeming maudlin or overly self-involved. ‘Blue Sunday Love’ knocks it out of the park in this regard. The closing track ‘Oh Water, Oh Thunder, Oh Fire’ is like an atmospheric hymn. I highly recommend ‘House With The Little Rose Garden’ for poetry and soul…2 things we all need more of in the coming years.
In preparation for going to see a matinee performance of Guillaume Tell at The Metropolitan Opera I went for a run in the morning (it’s a 5 hour opera). I completed my shopping at the green market, picked up a paper and a coffee earlier than usual. I mentally prepared myself to listen beyond the less than complimentary review published by the New York Times a couple of weeks prior. The main complaint about the show has become a common one with Peter Gelb at the helm, staging. Specifically setting the action in the abstract. I also set out early to make the 12 o’clock curtain because I live uptown (Inwood aka upstate Manhattan) and the A-train has been recently replaced by a bus between 207th and 168th Street on weekends. I made it to Lincoln Center in comfortable time. My seat was one of the best in the house (it was a gift). This co-production between The Met and the Dutch National Opera of Rossini’s last opera, Guillaume Tell, was the first time it has been sung in French at the Met and the first time they’ve done the opera in decades. The conductor, Fabio Luisi, was really great. It was alarming to me that he could make that famous, maybe even overplayed overture really expressive and fresh. The main characters had great voices most notably Marina Rebeka as Mathilde. The look of the production seemed to be loosely aping rebel forces (the oppressed) versus imperial forces (the oppressors) a la the movie, Star Wars. There were three large white neon pillars for the forces of good and one giant red neon pillar for evil. The costumes were loose linen oatmeal colored wraps for the rebels and steampunk, black leather suits and top-hats for the men, overlarge bustles for the women for the imperials (the soldiers had steel grey chain-mail vests and skull caps). Gesler, the bass, John Relyea, had a smooth steel grey skullcap which covered half of his face…not dissimilar from the Phantom of The Opera. These are examples of what I had to focus past in order to absorb the music and story. Gerald Finley was excellent as the title character and Janai Brugger as Jemmy (his son) had an incredible voice. The whole cast really all just had top notch, gorgeous voices (the women were stronger than the men in my opinion). My seat neighbor was a charming, elderly lady whom bid me adieu with, “that’s enough for me” at the end of the fourth act. Previously she said that initially she was thrown by the modernity of the production but got into it. Little did she know that her exit couldn’t have been better timed. I got back to my seat after a plastic glass of ridiculously priced Merlot prepared to witness the fate of our hero and his son. We waited. The doors were closed. Security guys were just standing by the doors. Nothing happening. The start of the final act was taking too long, what’s up? No musicians entered the orchestra pit to tune up/warm up. Finally a house manager came out and said that they were experiencing a snag backstage but that everyone was okay and it would be a little while longer. The audience grew restless after a while longer passed. A rhythmic clap began among some as though to elicit an encore….the house manager (I assumed) came back, apologized and said that the production was over!! A man began yelling “I want my money back, I want my money back” to which other audiences members retorted “Shut up!”. The house manager resumed with a suggestion to contact customer service and to please come back to see Guillaume Tell. NO FURTHER explanation. I had my focus set on this production, I prepared for it, I overlooked the aspects I disliked, I very much enjoyed the music…cut off. Unfinished. I was furious. Did a diva throw a fit? Did a wealthy Trump patron somehow sabotage the show? What happened to, “THE SHOW MUST GO ON”???
“Today’s performance of Guillaume Tell was canceled during the second intermission because of a disturbance by an audience member, who sprinkled an unidentified powdered substance into the orchestra pit. The NYPD is investigating the incident,” the statement read.
“We have spoken to more than one witness, who said they spoke to an individual from out of town who indicated he was here to sprinkle ashes of a friend, his mentor in opera, during the performance. That is certainly an area which we’re pursuing,” John Miller, New York police deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism told CNN.
Miller said police know the man’s identity but won’t release his name.
Officials at the Met appeared relieved at the prospect that the substance could have been ashes.
“This was taken very seriously by the Met,” Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, told CNN.
“Ashes of an opera-loving mentor being sprinkled into the pit, although inconveniencing all of us, is a far cry better than anything else,” Gelb said.
NOT QUITE SURE what Gelb means. One jerk disrupts the opera, the performers, the audience members and that’s better than WHAT??
I ran a crazy 5K race about a month ago called the Tunnel 2 Towers run. It was in honor of an NYC firefighter, Stephen Siller, who ran through the Battery Tunnel from Red Hook, Brooklyn to the World Trade Center in full gear on September 11th, 2001. It was wild! I haven’t run a race in decades and never a race through a tunnel. I ran a 23:49.4 m. in the top 50! 31st of my gender. Anyway, after the race I got myself together and later in the day took a bus to Philadelphia with a friend to meet up with a friend of his, who lives there, to hear Pylon play at Johnny Brenda’s. I hadn’t visited Philly in years….the last time I was there I think I auditioned for the t.v. show, “Hack”, and went to AKA Music on North 2nd and visited the Wilma Theatre on Broad Street (I was in a couple of productions there in the 90’s when they were on Sansom Street). We walked from the bus drop-off on Market Street and it was a wild trip down memory lane. I fell in love there, I went to art school there, I worked in various restaurants there, and I worked as an actor there. Philadelphia has changed since I left but not in any way that New York hasn’t. There are hipsters there and there are luxury buildings and fancy special eateries and everyone wonders how anyone could afford anything (or maybe that’s just me). Johnny Brenda’s is an amazing bar/restaurant/music venue. The music venue part of the joint is a perfect-sized rock club for true fans. A raised stage, a balcony overlooking the stage (like a tiny, compact Bowery Ballroom). Johnny Brenda’s is for the embattled remaining faithful who listen to full albums, go to live shows and actually care about music they haven’t been force-fed. I wasn’t very familiar with Pylon and listened to them a couple of days prior to the show to get a sense of what I was in for. They made simple, angular 80’s rock i.e. cool stuff worth checking out (I recommend their album, ‘Chomp More’. Dressy Bessy hit the stage first (we missed the opener, Telepathic) and I was blown away! The band is from Denver, Colorado. Tammy Ealom, the lead singer/guitarist, is full of raw energy and attitude befitting her brand of pop-punk. It may sound sterile or something but she really knew how to connect with the audience. The band is associated with the Elephant Six Collective (a group of American musicians who comprised the bands; Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, oF Montreal, The Minders, and Circulatory System) mostly 60’s inspired pop. Also playing for Dressy Bessy are Darren Albert (drummer), Rob Greene (bass), John Hill (lead guitar (also plays with The Apples in Stereo)). I later found out that Tammy Ealom was in The Minders at one time, a band I really dig. They had a great set! Most of the songs are from their latest album, ‘Kingsized’ (Yeproc). Upon listening to earlier albums after the show I realized that with this current one they have really come into their own undoubtedly!! I highly recommend this album for it’s upbeat energy, lyrical bite, and hooky melodic lines!! Pylon had a good set too….but Dressy Bessy won the night (for me)!
Sorry it’s been a while dear listeners/readers! More musical observations, reviews and revelations soon! Until then, maintain. -p
Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
This is a post I’ve been putting off…initially I was going to write about David Bowie’s death and how amazing an experience it was to hear his album, Blackstar, which dealt with mortality, two days prior to his death and how the album actually saw me through my grieving process. It was a very strange experience…I think I was still adapting to a Bowie-less world when I had heard Prince was sick on an airplane. Hm that’s weird news I thought….though not entirely beyond the pale because he was doing a solo piano tour. Then I was out having lunch with a friend in a cafeteria style food court on 34th street on April 21st when I heard one Prince song on the radio and then another and on the third song I asked my cohort to look for news on the internet when the DJ came on and announced that Prince had died. I was immediately stricken. My main influences when I was a teenager were David Bowie, Lou Reed (Velvet Underground), Prince, and Tom Waits. The Beatles, Yes, The Who, Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, The Cure, Elvis Costello, The Clash all had their moments of varying degrees of fascination for me too but Bowie, Lou, Prince and Tom spoke to my core. It probably has something to do with the malleability of these performers. They could inhabit any character they wanted. They could raise the outcast to be greater than their oppressive circumstance. There’s a certain grace to restoring dignity to those who may have lost it or bestowing dignity upon those who never had any to begin with. I think Prince’s death struck me more immediately than David Bowie’s because of the primal connection I felt from Prince as a dancer. When music makes you move despite yourself, The funk. His sheer audacity as a performer was something to behold, smirking, sneering, and dancing like James Brown. Making sleazy acceptable is no small feat in the puritanical Western world. All of the showmanship was supported by the scope of his musical genius. He played guitar, piano, drums, you name it and didn’t just play but totally rocked whatever he was playing. The first time I had ever seen, “Written, Performed and Produced by”, on an album was Prince. I had only seen him perform once during his Lovesexy Tour. I’ll never forget it. There was a convertible Thunderbird on a track surrounding the stage which he played and sang in (undoubtedly during,’Alphabet Street’) and a little basketball court so he could shoot hoops while singing! He was a thrilling performer. While Prince’s songs were arguably less poetic than Tom, Lou and David they were certainly no less emotional. I’ll never forget when I bought ‘Parade’ at Rainbow Records on cassette and fell asleep listening to the last track, ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’, a sad ballad, and when I woke up in the morning there was snow blanketing the field….and it was April.
Good day dear readers! I hope all’s well in your lives. These are indeed dark days in the world of late….but really there’s always been strife. It’s how we endure and persist that matters…oh and what we’re listening to or what we can make, to accompany the ebb and flow of the tides of fortune. 2 weeks ago, April 8, 2016, I went to hear John Prine at The Kings Theatre in Brooklyn. I had previously seen Wilco there (see the Wilco post). Everyone I encountered, who works there, was welcoming, polite, and helpful. I had listened to Prine’s first 2 or 3 albums when visiting my sister, brother in-law, and nephews (my brother in-law had them loaded in the car). I had heard some of his songs before but from those concentrated listens I was hooked. I know it’s often said of artists you admire but I thought John Prine would be taller, it’s a testament to the towering songs he’s written. His face just beams, as though he has a permanent smile, it’s just built that way. The show began with a set by Iris DeMent (my first time seeing her live too). John kicked off his set with a cover of Merle Haggard’s, ‘Ramblin’ Fever’. Merle had died just a few days prior and it was a fitting tribute to his artistry and writing. I don’t know why John Prine hasn’t made bigger waves in the country music world….his views may lean too far to the left? I don’t know. He writes lyrics so effortlessly it’s as though they were always meant to be. His songs and his usually wry delivery of them, while often grappling with the harshest of realities, are never mean, often insightful, and sometimes just plain fun. The arrangement was; John on acoustic guitar and vocals, he really supported and enjoyed his young lead guitar player, Jason Wilber (who was a very tasteful player), Dave “Double Duty Daddy” Jaques on mandolin, guitar (who was clearly having a blast), and Pat McLuaghlin on upright and electric bass. Everybody’s time has to be pretty good to pull off arranged songs without drums and these men did so with great grace and style. If you ever get the chance….beg, borrow, or steal to go hear John Prine live. He will put a smile or a tear on your face from the depths of what it is to be human. He’s truly one of the best living songwriters. Not to be missed. I leave you with the setlist and Sam Stone. Be good to yourselves people!! Til next time! -p
(Merle Haggard cover)
Glory of True Love
Taking a Walk
Please Don’t Bury Me
Six O’Clock News
Grandpa Was a Carpenter
Hello in There
Fish and Whistle
Angel From Montgomery
You Got Gold
That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round
Milwaukee Here I Come (with Iris DeMent)
We Could (with Iris DeMent)
In Spite of Ourselves (with Iris DeMent)
She Is My Everything
Bear Creek Blues
(The Carter Family cover)
Magma are a French prog-rock band formed in the 1969 by classical drummer, Christian Vander. Prog-rock is often cast as nerdy due to content hailing from anywhere in outer-space to middle earth, lorded over by technically proficient players and revered by, well, various nerdy sorts. But really, what is a nerd and who cares? I’ve been called a lot of things and it hasn’t made any less or any more of me. That said, Vander claimed his inspiration for forming the band was a vision of humanity’s spiritual and ecological future (which was bleak). The first album was the story of humans fleeing a doomed earth to settle on the planet, Kobaia. Conflict arises between Kobaians and the earth refugees. Vander created a phonetic language, Kobaian, which is sung to express the story. The venue, Le Poisson Rouge, is still one of my favorite surviving NYC venues. It always sounds good and the sight-lines are excellent, and they get interesting acts (I wrote here about Califone and Iggy Pop). The opener was a solo cellist who goes by Helen Money though her name is Alison Chelsey. She created pieces with her cello and effects pedals which were cinematic and/or classical and occasionally piercing. She’s billed as a doom-cellist on her website but that’s a little limited according to what I heard. The place was packed. I’m pretty sure I spotted Greg Saunier, the drummer from Deerhoof, in the crowd. When Magma took the stage and got started I understood completely why Saunier was there. This drummer, Christian Vander, is amazing!! This band, Magma, are incredible!! Not wonky, nerdy, technical stuff but vocally and drum driven rock. It was wild, the guitar, bass, and keyboards (usual prog-rock suspects) served almost as ornamentation to the vocals and drums. There were interesting stops and great builds in the music and they had soul! The most important thing, as with most vocal performances, was the telling of the story which they did with the acumen of classically trained actors. One male lead vocalist in addition to Christian Vander and two females. The concert was like being at a modern classical music concert in the length of the pieces and intensity of the music. It was alternately meditative and hypnotic. Drums and voices….it doesn’t get much more primitive than that and yet those parts were both so expertly handled that it elevated the music as a whole. My first rock concert was arguably one of the best prog-rock bands ever, Yes, at Madison Square Garden. Compared to Magma Yes are traditional. It was really a one of a kind concert.
Here’s a taste (with only one of the women) They played this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjYnuhIlnIU
Thursday April 14th @ Branded Saloon 603 Vanderbilt Ave. Brooklyn, NY Philip Lynch (solo) 7PM, Harry Graff Kimball (solo) 8PM, Los Chinches 8:30PM
Sunday April 17th @ An Beal Bocht 445 West 238th Street Bronx, NY Rob McMahon 8PM, Philip Lynch 9PM
Friday April 22nd At The Start / At Long Last will be widely available on familiar digital platforms
In February I went to see Seu Jorge with friends at the Blue Note Jazz Club, 131 West 3rd Street, NYC. Seu Jorge is a Brazilian pop star made popular here in the United States by his appearance in the 2004 Wes Anderson film, ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’ (I’ve gotta get some of my songs in a film hahahaha). He recorded covers of David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars?’, ‘Rock n’ Roll Suicide’, ‘Changes’,’Oh You Pretty Things’, ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Five Years’, ‘Queen Bitch’, ‘When I Live My Dream’, ‘Starman’, ‘Quicksand’, and ‘Rebel, Rebel’ for said film sung in Portuguese and accompanied by nylon string guitar. Bowie’s response was, “had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with”. I had been avoiding Bowie tributes after he died because my relationship with his music is very personal and I didn’t want to feel less about his catalog. I allowed myself this possibility with Seu because I had already heard his covers, I really like them, and this was NOT a tribute show. Portuguese added space for the covers to be particular to Seu and I wanted to hear more of his own music. I really love Antonio Carlos Jobim and Gilberto Gil (Brazilian) so this was a fairly safe bet. Seu has a rich, facile voice and his guitar playing is really sensitive and his rhythm is excellent. He has Samba in his soul for sure with some great jazz inflections and a pop sensibility to boot. His band was outstanding, piano, bass and drums/percussion….I searched for those cats names but have come up blank. If anybody knows their names please write to me!! They were great!! The Blue Note Jazz Club is a special place rich with a history of notable performers since they opened in 1981. The show was sold out but we had a table (much more comfortable than crunching in at the bar). One of the beautiful things about New York City is that an International star can come here and have fans from his/her home country in the audience. It does something for us natives too, it reminds us of the beauty to be found in the world. We crave this feeling in the current isolationist climate fostered by jerks whom I shall not name lest I sully my precious blog page hahahahahaha. Seu began relaxed and became more intense as the set went on. He is a very focused performer. As I’ve probably noted before (see Dungen) I love hearing songs in other languages. I’ve been studying Italian for the past year so I was particularly delighted when he sang a song in Italiano!! I highly recommend Seu Jorge without reservation, go see him live!! You will not be disappointed! Have a great weekend all!!
Upcoming Dates: Saturday April 2nd, 2016 The Purple Hat Foundation’s 6th Annual Benefit @ An Beal Bocht Cafe 445 West 238th Street @ Graystone Ave. Bronx, NY
Charity Event featuring all of these righteous acts!!
11:00 – Janice Young
11:30 -Julian Bar-Illan
12:00 – The Deep End
12:30 – Rob McMahon
1:00 – Jim Petrie
1:30 – Riley Fields & Sarah Halliday
2:00 – Pat Harper
3:00 – New York Brogue
3:30 – John Walsh
4:10 – Sloe Guns
5:00 – Mary Courtney
5:30 – Last Stop
6:00 – Philip Lynch (solo)
6:30 – Steve Oates
7:00 – Jerry Dugger and Luca Tozzi
8:00 – Dragonfly 13
9:00 – Electric Walrus
9:30 – DENNISAURUSrex
10:10 – Mitchell Trio
10:50 – The Lounge Act
11:30 – Brooks Thomas
Thursday April 14th, 2016 Branded Saloon 603 Vanderbilt Ave. Brooklyn, NY
7:00pm Philip Lynch (solo; philiplynch.bandcamp.com)
8:00pm Harry Graff Kimball (solo; member of Los Chinches)
8:30pm Los Chinches (full band; loschinchesnyc.bandcamp.com)
10:00pm Karaoke Warzone w/ Jared Michael Gniewek till 2a