Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Shaina Taub at the Middle East

On Monday the 25th we met my old college friend Mike (and "anonymous" friend) at the Middle East in Cambridge to see his daughter, Shaina Taub, play the upstairs room with her trio.  We had an ok dinner and a nice talk, hanging out before the show and having a couple of beers.

Shaina and her Trio are excellent, we enjoyed their set thoroughly (photos here).  They mixed in covers of Joni's Help Me I Think I'm Falling In Love Again and a song by BeyoncĂ© with a great assortment of Shaina's songs.  Every song featured inventive lyrics, technically adventurous (and successful) and well-sung arrangements, and some fine musicianship.

Shaina obviously comes from a musical theater background and her songs have plots, twists, and irony to them ... shocking!  And her performance is striking too: she opens verses and choruses with distinct diction and perfectly struck notes instead of sidling up to the words like a rocker or folkie.

Their set was only 45 minutes or so and then they had to give up the stage to the next act.  That was ok with us older folk, it was a Monday night!  Back home and some more time talking and having one more beer with Mike and [anonymous friend] before bed.

This is an older song of Shaina's that she didn't do last night, but showcases her way with words and her singing ability:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Emmylou/Rodney and Richard at the Orpheum

There’s lots I have a hard time describing sufficiently well about the concert we saw on Saturday night, 3/23 at the Orpheum.  It was Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell (with band), with Richard Thompson (with trio) opening.  These are three iconic musicians and three of my favorite musicians ever.

It was a Saturday night and the time slipped by, then we drove into the city quickly and grabbed a bite to eat in a Government Center bar before the show … I think most of the other people in the bar were going to the show too because it had been packed but then cleared out when opening time approached.  Walked the few blocks over to the Orpheum, my first time seeing a show there in over 35 years and it apparently hadn’t changed a bit, it was exactly like my memories of a cramped, worn-out old hole-in-the-wall theater and it was so full of people you could barely move through the crowd.  Emmylou mentioned how much she liked it, but from the audience perspective you might get some argument.  We ran into some country/folk friends there we hadn’t seen for a while, grabbed a couple of tall beers, and made it to our seats as the lights flashed and dimmed.

Thompson came out and was fantastic.  His trio was just incredible, with bassist Taras Prodaniuk providing just the thunder you want to back up Richard Thompson and singing some incredible harmony, and drummer Michael Jerome being the kind of acrobatic drummer people rave about, using his long limbs to pound those skins so fast he was a blur.  They played for maybe 45 minutes and did a number of songs from the new album such as Salford Sunday, Sally B, Good Things Happen To Bad People, and (thankfully!) Saving the Good Stuff For You.  His trio left him alone for 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, which of course brought down the house.  Richard never moves the guitar even when he’s playing the most incredible solos and never moves his expression even when he’s spitting out the most intense verbiage.  He was fantastic.

Then we got a break and soon Emmylou and Rodney came out (with lead guitar, pedal steel, drums, bass, and piano and with them strumming their killer melodies on acoustics, Rodney in a wide-brimmed black hat and Emmylou in the hair).  I had been a bit annoyed that we weren’t up front; even though I had been checking frequently for the tickets going on sale I’d been just a bit late getting them and we were relegated to maybe 25th row, orchestra right.  But I soon had to admit that if we’d been up front I may not have been able to take it.  Their sound was just a wave of perfect harmonious, funky, easy country-folk that washed over me and left me almost struggling for air.  Most of the others around me were hanging their jaws open and/or gasping for breath themselves; we were all in church listening to some of the saints whose teachings the church was founded on recite them in front of us.  OK, Emmy and Rodney are just people and that’s one of the things that make them such charming performers.  But I and seemingly everyone else around me, including some I testified with between sets, had been listening to this sound for years, and … well, I guess I’m past my ability to describe it again.

They played for well over 90 minutes, maybe two hours; here’s the set list.  There was not a moment of it that wasn’t over the top great, or 10 times as good as that:

  • Return of the Grievous Angel
  • Wheels
  • Pancho and Lefty
  • Earthbound
  • Till I Gain Control Again
  • Tragedy
  • Luxury Liner
  • Hanging Up My Heart
  • Invitation to the Blues
  • Dreaming My Dreams
  • Back When We Were Beautiful
  • Chase the Feeling (another fantastic Kristofferson song, maybe my favorite from the new record)
  • Black Caffeine
  • Spanish Dancer
  • Bluebird Wine (Rodney admitted that he'd re-written the first two verses a bit)
  • Old Yellow Moon
  • I Ain't Living Long Like This (with Richard Thompson; here’s a (low fidelity) performance of that song from earlier in the tour that may give you a hint how excellent this was)
  • Still Learning How To Fly
  • Leaving Louisiana In the Broad Daylight


  • I'll Be Your San Antone Rose
  • Love Hurts

Don’t take my word for what a surreal experience it was, read this Boston Globe review … it’s rare to hear a professional music reviewer gush as much as I do!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Amy Helm Band at the Bull Run

You've probably heard me say this before, but as soon as I heard XXX was playing locally at a hall I love, we snapped up tickets.  This time it was the incredible Amy Helm at the Bull Run and we got tickets at the front table, where we've seen acts like Hot Tuna, Dan Hicks, Patty Larkin, et al.  We've had some great times at the Bull Run and this was another one.

The Sawtelle Room was only half full and this is ridiculous.  I feel that Amy Helm is the kind of remarkable talent that, several years from now if she sticks to it and releases a few records, people will be running to go see.  She's been in the shadow of her Dad, lost a bit in the varied talent of her earlier band Ollabelle (whom I *hope* gets back together), and trying to mix family with career, but when you get a chance to see a musician like this you should not pass it up.

I can't say I feel Amy is the greatest singer, the greatest songwriter, the most amazing multi-instrumentalist, or the greatest bandleader.  But she has all those tools, mixes them well, and is one of the most soulful, affecting, sincere performers I know.  Don't take my word for it, look up her videos and recordings (her first solo album will be out in "the fall"), and ask Scott who saw a few of her videos, came out last night, and was blown away.

Thea Hopkins and her accompanist Andy Hollinger opened and played a fine set.  Thea presses her guitar close to her chest like a security blanket and is a bit reminiscent of Diana Jones in using her warbly voice to sneak some great verbal images almost by you.

Then Amy came out with her band of Daniel Littleton on a funky old acoustic, Justin Guip on drum kit and box, and the great Byron Isaacs (whom I didn't recognize at first because of the Coke-bottle glasses he was sporting) on bass-shaped-like-a-ukelele and guitar.  Amy stuck to mandola and vocals.  The legendary Ronnie Earl also sat in on a few tunes.  When Justin switched to the box he also brought out an instrument that you could set to a key and squeeze for it to blows air over its reeds, kind of like a cross between ... well, a lot of things.  He talked about it some and mentioned its name (which I forget), but in my mind I called it Glenn Patscha. :)

They stuck mostly to recent Amy-penned tunes in the beginning of their set.  We were disappointed that her album isn't released yet but I'm sure we heard most of it.  Two of her remarkable recent tunes are Roll the Stone and Sky's Falling and she did those second and third in the set.  Jeez, it was another case of we could have gone home then and been more than satisfied.  Sky's Falling in particular is awesome ... better and better each time she plays it.  And then the jaw-dropping soulfulness and intensity just kept coming, with songs like The Battle Is Over, Calvary, Guthrie's I Ain't Got No Home, Dylan's Every Grain Of Sand (the most beautiful, moving version I've ever heard), and the closing rendition of The Band's It Makes No Difference.

Take a look at Sarah's pictures and some videos she took.  Also, here's another review of a recent show.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ol' Brown Shoe at the Spotlight

We'd been hoping to get Dave out to see my friend Larry's band during his vacation, but he had to go back to college during the day on the 16th ... so we went ourselves!  Drove over to the Spotlight Tavern in Beverly and got there while they were setting up; they started playing around 9:45 or so.

Larry and the other guys in Ol' Brown Shoe have been playing together for a while and have quite a repertoire at this point ... they rolled out a few new covers and even played Larry's great original.  They opened with an excellent cover of That's What Love Will Make You Do, did Boogie On Reggae Woman (one of my favorites), Big River, Sugar Magnolia, China Cat into Larry's original, debuted Cold Rain and Snow (Jeff on vocals), other stuff, and then took a break.

The second set was even better, with an excellent new work-up of Paul Simon's Late In the Evening, a rocking, tight Shakedown Street, perhaps the song of the evening in a psychedelic Glass Onion, another candidate for song of the evening in Scarlet Begonias, and just a wonderful, jamming version of Blue Sky into Marvin Gaye's What's Going On.

Edged out into the chilly March night after the warm show, drove back home, and got to bed by 2 or so ... another late night for us older rockers.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Good Snow at Cannon

We've had a lot of late-Winter snowstorms this year, and most of them have been big in the New Hampshire snow belt as well.  So when we scheduled a ski trip (at last, first one this year!) for Sunday the 10th we decided to try Cannon, which is an intriguing mountain but has been icy and raw every time I've gone there.

Dave was home for vacation and he, Marnie, and I headed North on the first morning of daylight savings ... quite an early start.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and we were a little dismayed that as we started gaining elevation North of Concord there seemed to be no more snow by the sides of the road than in Massachusetts ... less in fact.  We considered bailing and opting for Waterville, but we continued to Cannon and it turned out to be a good decision, the snow there was fantastic and the crowd was not bad at all.

One of the highlights of the day actually, was stopping for lunch.  We were just getting off the tram at 11:30 or so and decided to take our pre-lunch-crowd break in the cafeteria at the tram-head, where none of us had ever been before.  As it turns out we got a great table in their beautiful bar/lounge with wrap-around windows (it was such bright, sunny day that Mt. Washington could be seen clearly), the beer was cold, the paninis were not really outrageously expensive, and the bartender was playing Grateful Dead!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tracy Grammer at The M&T

The Me and Thee Coffeehouse has booked an incredible lineup this season, even though Patty Larkin was cancelled by snow a couple of weeks ago.  For instance, on Friday night (3/1) we made our way up to Marblehead (after the regular meet-up at Gulu Gulu in Salem) to see Cliff Eberhardt opening for Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry.

There was a short line that was just being let in when we pulled up, but we were still able to grab the best seats in the house, first row right in the pole position.  Cliff came on and played a thoroughly entertaining set, mixing humor and a wide range of songs, all done with his home-spun style.  We were delighted that he played his two mega-hits (well, mega-hits for folk): Memphis and The Long Road.  Memphis has been covered by everybody and, though he didn’t bring out Richie Havens, The Long Road was done beautifully ... an extended apostrophe.

Then Tracy and Jim came on and, though Cliff had been great, the talent level just soared off the scale.  What can you say about Tracy Grammer?  She’s just a supremely talented musician who was blessed by her years with Dave Carter and continues to carry that musical torch.  They didn't do the two best songs in the world (Blue Wing and Gypsy Rose), but did a bunch of other Dave songs, some she’d written, and some covers.  For an encore they got Cliff back up on stage, unplugged, and led a sing-along on Townes’s Pancho and Lefty.

The highlights of the night for me were Little Blue Egg, Better Way, Hard To Make It, and The Mountain … cosmic folk poetry with beautiful licks.  They also did Vincent Black Lightning, apologizing that it took two of them to play it when Richard Thompson does it himself.  Tracy told a great story about Dave thinking that finally he had written a country hit in Better Way and starting out on the road to Nashville to peddle it ... and then the muses came back to him in the car and told him, “Dave, there’s a fourth verse to that song.”  He turned around and went home.

Summer is over and her temples are grey.
And I guess you'll be looking 'round for somebody new.
Or maybe you found him and you're just not saying
'cause he makes you feel the way I used to do.

Oh, Babe, if there's a better way
to love you, show it to me.
'Cause I could not live
and let you get away
knowing there was a better way.

Well, out on the highway a mean wind is screaming
and it cuts right through you when the rain bites hard.
But I'd walk beside you to share in your dreaming
And while you were sleeping, I'd be standing guard.


Well hard roads bust open with bitter words spoken
and hearts can be broken and dreams undone.
But hearts can be mended and hard words forgotten.
And roads we turned off of where they started from.


Death came to my window in the form of a maiden
But she didn't say nothing, she just stood and stared.
And round about midnight, she lay down beside me
But when I awoke, there was nobody there.