Saturday, March 29, 2014

Steve and Shawn at Berklee

Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin were doing a "songwriters" thing at Berklee Performance Center, so of course we went, on a Friday night in late March.  I'm on record as considering Earle one of the best musicians in the world, though I think he's really been running hot and cold since he moved to New York.  He's produced some of the best songs/performances of his career, but he's also wallowed in omphaloskepsis at times and isn't singing as well as he used to.

But we were excited to see those two anyway, and did our normal BPC thing of meeting at Bukowski's (they had cask-conditioned Abbott Ale on tap!).  We had a chance to stop by the Back Bay fire station, pet their dalmation, and honor the heroism of Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy, who died recently while fighting a fire and saving the lives of our neighbors.  A woman showed up in a kilt and played a moving rendition of Amazing Grace on bagpipe while we were there.

We had great seats in a sold-out BPC, and Shawn and Steve came on right on time and kicked it off nicely with Wake Up Little Susie.  I was a bit disappointed with the concert, it was as formulaic as a "songwriters" night could be, and Earle continued his propensity to get bored in the middle of his songs and mail it in.  They also could have used a lot more practice and/or better vocal arrangements.  Their voices can be very good together and at times were, but at other times were an odd couple.

BUT, Earle has written some of my favorites songs and one of the great things about the night was that he really covered some of the best of them.  He did no songs where I thought, "Gee, I wish he'd sung this instead."  He got right to it.  And Shawn has written some great songs herself, but admitted that they run the gamut from angry breakup songs to lonely breakup songs and don't stray far from that.  Here's the list:

  • Wake Up Little Susie
  • The Devil's Right Hand (Earle solo; he got bored on this)
  • Another Long One (Colvin solo)
  • Goodbye (Earle solo; one of the highlights of the night, he did this one right)
  • Object Of My Affection (Colvin)
  • Crazy (Colvin)
  • Pancho and Lefty (Earle; mailed this one in)
  • These Four Walls (Colvin; thrilling stuff, though her voice was not as penetrating as I'd hoped)
  • Guitar Town (Earle and Colvin, another plain vanilla performance where their voices didn't produce any magic)
  • Fearless Heart (Earle and Colvin; another highlight, they just nailed this great song, this should be the national anthem of some country!)
  • Diamond In the Rough (Colvin; one of her best songs and very well done)
  • City of Immigrants (Earle; great NYC song, and he got that sly syncopation of inflection that's one of his trademarks, though he let the song drift away from him a bit)
  • Burning It Down (Earle and Colvin; another of his great recent songs, done very very well)
  • Sunny Came Home (Colvin; her biggest hit, done nicely in an understated tone)
  • Galway Girl (Earle with Colvin on guitar; if only Shawn's hair were black and her eyes were blue ... this is a wonderful song!)
  • You're Still Standing There (Earle and Colvin; Steve told us in a tactful way that of course this wouldn't be as good as it was with Lucinda, but Shawn really busted out here and they did a ballsy take on this fantastic duet) 
  • Baby's In Black (Earle and Colvin; this was the first encore, a nice bookend to Little Susie)
  • Copperhead Road (Earle and Colvin; everyone was getting tired at this point)

Shawn stuck to her guitar all night and at times really impressed me with her ability to rock.  Earle played some good guitar but had some trouble with tuning and was best when he switched to bouzouki and then to his mandolin.  His picking the bouzouki on Galway Girl and his frailing the mandolin on Copperhead Road were perhaps the instrumental highlights of the night.

Another criticism I could make was that the songs were all very short.  They hurried through the verses and rarely added a bridge, like they were doing a "greatest hits" thing.  Oh well, enough of the criticisms.  We had a great time, great seats, and we were really glad to see this odd couple of superstar musicians stirring it up a bit.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

New Richard Shindell

We first went to see Richard Shindell play ... oh, it must have been 15 years ago.  He was playing again at Club Passim for three nights in a row; he lives in Argentina and when he comes around on tour it's an event.  We weren’t going to pay the steep price this time, but we wanted to take Andrew out for his birthday and as it turned out the last night of his stand, Thursday March 20th, was a great choice.  As it happened, this was the first day of Spring and also the International Day of Happiness.

Richard had been on ConcertWindow the night before and the two gigs really became one thing in my mind.  He played exactly the same set of songs on the two nights, except that he added Reunion Hill the second night.

Richard was accompanied by Mark Schulman, his long-time guitarist, and Joe Bonadio on percussion, who was excellent, especially on tabla.  It was quite a departure from Shindell's normal act in that his set was over half brand-new songs (he says they'll do a record soon), in that his arrangements were darker and funkier with the adventurous percussion, and in that he played mostly electric.  He had 4 guitars, 3 shiny electrics and an old acoustic (on which he did Your Guitar, a new song about buying Stephen Bruton's guitar).  Their one set was two hours long ... quite a deal for a folk artist.

The new songs were excellent; I loved Deer On the Parkway, Stray Cow Blues, and basically all of them.  He sprinkled in some of his classics like Next Best Western, There Goes Mavis (brilliant stuff on electric), Get Up Clara, Kenworth Of My Dreams, and Are You Happy Now.  He did a great cover of the traditional I Know You Rider, and encored with one of the greatest blues tunes of all time, Robert Johnson's Love In Vain.

Uncharacteristically, Richard forgot the words to Kenworth and it turned into quite a train wreck (he had gotten them all right on Wednesday), and he stumbled over the second-to-last verse of Happy Now on Thursday, which he'd totally blown the night before and crashed and burned on.  Oh well, he's almost as old as I am! :)  I think most people in the place could have cued him if he'd looked up.  And at one point Bonadio hit a sour "clack!" on one of his instruments and Shindell gave him quite the withering look.  Whatever, it was all in good humor and the set as a whole was excellent and thrilling.

His new arrangements are great.  He did the spaciest, funkiest Transit you could imagine (not to mention Mavis, again), which was possibly better on Thursday than on Wednesday.  As with other great singers I've seen, it was such a delight to actually sit there as quiet as a church mouse and hear him sing those lines that I'd heard many times before but were still riveting.  He sang to us about the nun changing a tire and how most of the world is unaware of their need to be cleansed, and the small distances between our sins and what *can* cleanse us ... great stuff.

He also did the funkiest Are You Happy Now that could be imagined.  The great thing about Shindell is that his modern folk songs are really just a small distance away from the roots of American music.  He turned Happy Now into the rock-blues rave you always knew it could be, and he did Kenworth like the Springsteen/Dylan-inspired country-blues anthem it is.  And he sure gave Love In Vain the Jagger-inspired, pissed-off-at-the-world snarl we all could relate to.  Great show!

After the encore we trundled up to the stage where Mark Schulman was cleaning up the cords and amps, and had a very nice talk with him.  He referred to Richard being a delight to play with because of his high standards, and how he can give his accompanists the laser-beam look when they make a mistake, like Bonadio had.  I recalled to him how Schulman had given Shindell the laser-beam look himself when Richard couldn't get his electric in tune at one point on Wednesday, and Mark was tickled to remember that.  He told us that in his mind it's harder and more important to work on tuning electrics, as opposed to acoustic guitars, which are more forgiving in performance.  Richard had tried something new and it had its glitches, but in all it was another great evening of music.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mid-Winter Waterville in March

Marnie, Scott, and I were able to get St. Patrick's Day off work and head up to Waterville Valley to take advantage of their $17 lift tickets.  The good news is that it was a beautiful, sunny, chilly, mid-winter day with great snow conditions.  The bad news is that this was in the latter part of dog-blessed March, a few days before the Spring equinox!  Will this winter never end??  Even the Mad River surrounding Waterville Valley was still choked with huge blocks of ice and gave us the impression it was early February.  It was 10 degrees at the top of the White Peaks chair with a 10-20 MPH wind forecast, though it may not have been that windy.

Oh well, we were dressed for it and had a great time.  The snow on the more North-facing trails, particularly Utter Abandon, Tippecanoe, and And Tyler Too was magically good.  Strange that the "sunnyside" trails, which are usually the best part of Waterville, were not as good.  There were lots of areas of very hard pack (approaching ice) around the mountain, though there were more than enough trails that were in beyond top-notch shape.  Even the "high country" was 100% open, and I was able to ski on parts of it I'd never been on before.

Strange again that the Sunnyside lift was not open and, surprisingly, neither was Lower Ricky Bobby's Run, which seemed in fine shape from a distance.  Oh well, that would have made the day too good I guess.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Los Lobos in Shirley

Continuing the jaw-dropping list of major acts the Bull Run Restaurant has been able to pull in, was Los Lobos!!  This was another case of getting tickets as soon as they went on sale, and we weren't able to snag the front table but were pretty close.  These guys could sell out and rock a much larger place, but somehow they landed at the Bull Run and we were delighted.  The show sold out quickly and the room was packed; Cesar Rosas kept on saying, "Where are we?" and no one answered him.  It's hard to explain where Shirley is in a short phrase.

Los Lobos has been around since I graduated from high school, which is saying a lot.  To see a band with this pedigree in the Bull Run was thrilling.  Sarah and I met Scott and Michelle at table 93, and made friends with the other denizens of course.  The room filled up quickly and the crowd of happy people taxed the wait-staff.  Los Lobos came on a half hour late but that wasn't bad in this case.

Geez, they're good; they could play the phone book and turn it into a funky rocker.  Hidalgo is a fantastic guitarist, reminding me of Jorma Kaukonen in the way his meaty hands wring sounds out of his instrument, and of a Hendrix or Garcia in his facility and his attack.  Rosas also really impressed me, not so much with his vocals, but with his inventive musicality.  And more times than I can count I thought, "What is that?" and it was Louie Pérez just taking off with the song.  And Enrique Gonzalez played the best cow bell I've ever heard ... no sarcasm intended!

They really divide into two halves in a live performance, which play off each other and are thrilling when they unite.  Conrad Lozano on electric bass, Gonzalez on kit drums, and Rosas on rhythm guitar hold down the funk and the groove, while on the other side of the stage (from our perspective), Pérez on tenor guitar, Hidalgo on ripping lead guitar, and Steve Berlin on keyboards and sax milk the melody for all it's worth and add a healthy heaping of space.  Hidalgo also surprised me with a couple of killer songs on accordion and Berlin played some soulful flute.  They had the crowd from the first note and did a long, long set.

They didn't hit up many of their "hits," which was fine with me.  They did Mas y Mas towards the end, which is possibly my favorite song of theirs, it's got their funk and their brightness.  Not many (any?) covers in the set, but when they came out for an encore they certainly showed their chops.  They did incredible covers of Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away, Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing, and then the Grateful Dead's Bertha.  We all had to move, really had to move!!

Phew, what an experience!  Who's next at the Bull Run??

Sarah pictures at

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lori McKenna and Lots O' People

Lori McKenna has written some great songs and seemed like a good choice for a Me and Thee trip on a Friday night.  We fought traffic all the way there and the UU church in Marblehead was sold out and rocking.  Actually, I didn't recognize any rockers from Monday night.  We snagged seats in the back row of the sanctuary and were lucky to do that, it was packed.

Dietrich Strause opened and was not on.  Then it was Lori's turn, accompanied by Marc Erelli, who is a great musician himself.  They didn't mesh until well into the set though.  Lori's songs are her strong point and didn't need Erelli's lead guitar; when he switched to mandolin things worked better.

Highlights were Lorraine and How Romantic Is That, but the choice of opening with one of her strongest songs, Salt, was weird.  All in all, not the best night.