Monday, March 03, 2008

Rufus Wainwright & Lucy Wainwright Roche -- Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh

No. Not THAT Carnegie Hall. Sorry. Rufus and his half-sister played the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh (Homestead), PA, on January 3, 2008. What a fantastic way to kick off the new year!

I've been a Rufus fan for a number of years and was anxious to hear him live. I wondered if he would perform in drag or not. Not. Before I ever got a glimpse of him, his sister Lucy strolled onto the stage at the beautiful Carnegie Music Hall, appearing somewhat awkward and shy, and performed a great set of songs. She's a very funny story teller and likes to rib Rufus whenever she gets a chance. And she has a great, soaring, voice that belts out her lifestories in somewhat "Roches" reminiscent phrasing of amusing little vignets. Her mom is Suzzy Roche of the great girl band, The Roches. I loved the Roches when I was in my twenties. I loved Lucy too!

She shared a story about when she and Rufus were children. He used to make her lie, silent and motionless, on the family couch while he performed various operatic arias over her. Lucy was a school teacher for most of her early years and recently quit teaching to perform full time. She gets lost (a lot) on the road and spends a lot of hours alone in her car. She'll tell you all about it when you see her.

Rufus came out dressed in clog shoes, a black jacket, jeans, and a nice shirt. As soon as the first notes of his first song came trickling out of the stage piano, I knew we were in for a treat. He is such an accomplished pianist! He actually studied piano and added his voice later.

His song phrasing is as delicate as any studio CD ... even more pronounced and theatrical on stage. He talked a lot when the mood hit him -- otherwise, he does and sings whatever he pleases. He's so flamboyant ... and you can't help but love him as he stands alone on the empty stage with his piano behind him and a desire thrust forward to be "the next huge STAR" (dammit!) He actually whined that he should have been a much bigger star by now with his accomplished family credentials and that Carnegie Hall, NY, Judy Garland stint. Agreed. He really is amazing. Word has it that his next CD will be an opera. That's fitting for Rufus.

I love this guy. He's talented and funny and deserves a big shot at stardom. Problem is ... his art should be enough to propel him and not his "why not me" declarations. Don't get me wrong. I think he deserves a lot of attention. Awww, who knows? Maybe his whining will get him noticed after all. And wouldn't that be a gift to so many?

I wish I could have seen him with his sister, Martha, though. I really liked Lucy (she's very talented and very entertaining on stage) but I LOVE Martha! Oh well ... maybe next time. He seemed to like the quirkiness of the 'Burgh and the incredible Carnegie Music Hall venue so maybe (fingers crossed) he'll be back again some day.
Tori Amos -- "American Doll Posse"

Tori and her band played Pittsburgh's Benedum Center October 30,2007, to a sold out crowd. I was a "Tori nut" when she first broke into alternative radio playlists with Cornflake Girl. I really liked her sound and was impressed with her lyrics. I purchased "Under the Pink" and "Little Earthquakes" and then nothing until "Boys for Pele." They were all good CD's. I wouldn't have gone out of my way to see her live show but my girlfriend REALLY wanted to see her and got some good tickets.

Her shows are attended by fanatical fans (was that redundant? LOL!) They know every lyric and nuance to her stage performances and, in the end, become part of the show. The woman next to me actually squeeled several times during the first few notes of a song. We ran into a few fans beforehand at a local watering hole. Evidently (we didn't see the message from the band) the show was a Halloween Show and everyone was supposed to dress up. The themes from her songs include a lot of references to organized religion and the fans we ran into were dressed up as Satan and three Altar Boys. They had met her earlier in the day and were very complimentary of Tori's personal attention to their doting. It's nice to hear about such a huge star actually spending time with fans before a big show.

The show itself was mesmerizing. I really didn't know about the concept for the CD or the fact that Tori often dresses up as various evil/good personas named Santa, Isabel, Pip, Clyde, and Tori. Over the years, Tori has suffered from numerous bouts of depression and a very public retelling of a rape. All of the personas represent different aspects of her being. It was a very entertaining part of the show as she totally "became" each persona on stage.

She played simultaneous organ and piano for several of the songs -- stretching her arms and turning around to play the organ at points. I was very impressed with her voice and her ability to really jam. And her costumes were fabulous! My favorite song of the evening was "Caught A Light Sneeze." What an amazing performance vocally.

I would really recommend seeing her live but make sure you dust off the old CD's and watch some of her videos (there are six of them) before going. Otherwise, you'll miss out on all of the audience participation. She has been nominated for a Grammy nine times since she began packaging CD's in 1990. She has sold more than 12 million CD's and is considered one of the most active touring artists in the world.

I'm sure there aren't many folks out there that haven't heard Tori's amazing voice but just in case you're one of them, you may want to check out these sites for more information: and for some great bootleg concerts. Of course you can always read all about Tori at wikipedia
She is truly a gem.

Oh ... and Bruce? Thanks for the nudge. This post is LONGGGGGGGGGGG overdue.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Neko Case -- "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood"

Do you know how a really great show lingers for days afterward; starry refrains of absolute perfection suddenly floating through your mind at the oddest of moments? I've been hearing strains of Neko's lush vocal opening to John Saw That Number over and over again -- completely offset by the throbbing under beat of Deep Red Bells. Neko has been on continuous loop in my brain and it seems that no matter how hard I try, I can't go back to the exact moment in time when she stood a mere four rows from me with her red mane of hair trailing behind her as she began her 90-minute slice of vocal heaven.

To say that her live performance at the Byham Theater last Thursday was spellbinding would be an understatement. A lot of artists rely upon the magic of the studio to enhance their vocals. Not this woman. She can wail like Patsy Cline reincarnated. I also heard strains of Lorretta Lynn and kd Lang which, I guess, is why reviewers always tag her as alt-country. She doesn't seem to care for that label nor anyone photographing her because it makes her extremely nervous. What really struck me about her stage performance was how quickly she transitioned from laughing and kidding around with her long-time friend and backup singer, Kelly Hogan, to the hushed sweet opening lines of Maybe Sparrow two seconds later. It blew my mind!

Her backing band (the Jon Rauhouse Quartet featuring Paul Rigby on upright bass, Barry Mirochnick on drums, Jon Rauhouse on banjo, lap steel and steel guitar, Kelly Hogan on backing vocals, and Tommy Connell on guitars) was tight and well-rehearsed. Jon's been playing with her for a very long time and does an incredible job laying down the tempo with Barry.

Kelly is in a league of her own, truly. She has a fantastic set of pipes that perfectly complement Neko's soaring vocals and quieter refrains. So many reviewers have mentioned their hysterical stage rapport and it's true, it's all true.

At one one point during the show, Neko mentioned something about Virginia baked ham and pickles and Kelly went off on her own tangent about pickles with Neko prodding her on by asking whether she liked dill pickles or sweet pickles.

"Oh, I love pickles ... any kind ... you can just line 'em all up in front of me here on this stage," Kelly answered, using her hand to point out the make-believe pickle jars arranged before her.

At another point in the show, Kelly was coming back onstage and her ring (well, it was supposed to be a ring but it was HUGE and had caught my eye earlier because I swore it was blinking) flew off of her finger and into the audience. A woman sitting in the first row searched around and found it for her. Neko deadpanned, "Thanks 2B ... you know, the kind woman sitting in seat 2B." Evidently, as Kelly explained, she had just applied some hand lotion. She then proceeded to set her Dr. Pepper chapstick on the stage near Neko and it rolled away.

"Would you like some Dr. Pepper chapstick, Neko?" Kelly asked her, after she retrieved the renegade lip balm. Neko smiled and said that Dr. Pepper chapstick reminded her of the very first time she made out with a boy. It was her best friend's older brother who had a real thing for David Lee Roth. In fact, as she explained, he had this photo of himself and Roth displayed right next to his bed. Her friendship with his sister ended that day and all she was left with was the memory of him pulling away in his MG Midget wearing super short shorts. Evidently, Tommy Connell has a cousin by the name of the guy she made out with and she was very quick to reassure Tommy that it was definitely not his cousin.

BANG! Right into the next song without a pause.

It was strange at times, laughing so hard in one moment and then hearing Neko's ethereal voice filling the Byham to the gills. I loved it and never wanted it to end. But end, it did, after two encores. She played a fantastic set, mixing in old, older, and new(er) (Fox Confessor having been released last year). She joked that she couldn't real say that this was from her new album anymore.

Hey, when you have an album as good as Fox Confessor, keep playing it. She did every song complete justice - spot on! She didn't play the entire Fox CD but those she did perform sounded absolutely dreamy, even the scarier tunes like Dirty Knife (she called them her Halloweeny songs). She has finally peeked out from behind the instruments long enough to find her voice and let it shine. Welcome home, Ms. Case. You have arrived.

After the show, we wandered out to the merchandise table to pick up a CD or two. I was trying to decide which CD to buy (Blacklisted or Canadian Amp) when suddenly, the crowd erupted with clapping and cheering. I looked up to find myself face to face with Neko! What an unexpected and perfect ending to an unbelievable show. She is just as lovely up close as the photos would have you believe only more naturally beautiful. Stunning!

You can read my full review of Fox Confessor here. If you like Neko and don't already have her Austin City Limits DVD, buy it. It is very beautiful but lacking the onstage banter between Kelly and Neko. Still ... amazing! It's pre-Fox Confessor (Maybe Sparrow aside, as she was first starting to perform that one but not with the full range of vocal power she uses now) so don't expect to hear Hold On Hold On or Margaret vs. Pauline.

I guess I should mention the opening act, Eric Bachmann. He didn't blow me away by any stretch. If I heard one more song about the ocean or including "the depths" in the lyrics, I was honestly considering heading out to the bar. His drummer (and I use the term drummer VERY loosely) also played guitar and forget to plug it in for the first song she played. The highlight, by far, was his violinist Kate O'Brien. She was fantastic! Okay, as my mother used to tell me ... if you can't say something nice ... don't say anything at all. I said something but not as much as I could have.

Thanks for reading. Please drop me a line with your favorite Kelly and Neko moment.

Monday, June 25, 2007

WYEP Summer Music Festival -- Featuring Jon Check, Ike Reilly Assassination, Kim Richey, Sinead O'Connor, and M.o.e.

WYEP FM 91.3 does a free music event every year to cap off their "Live at the Warhol" World Cafe tapings which is just such a fantastic idea. Major kudos to our local independent radio station for being the frontrunner in creating venues for independent artists. This is their tenth year of the event and the attendance just keeps growing. The audience was a real mix - young and old, straight and gay, homeless (thank you, homeless dancing man with the empty fifth in your hand), educated and working class. It's just so great to see so many different people turn out for these shows. The World Cafe broadcasts will take place in July.

Jon Check was up first as the ice breaker. He's a Philadelphia boy that attended the U. of Pittsburgh for a journalism degree and stuck around. WYEP plays his soulful music on occasion and I've always liked his voice and groovy tunes. He played with two backup singers from the area which lent a little more breadth to his sound. I liked them but it was pretty early (i.e. not enough wine and cheese just yet) to really engage me. His voice is deep and reminiscent of Michael McDonald though some have compared him to Van, the man, which I just don't hear. His background includes a blue grass band and a deep love of Otis Redding. He's trying to get picked up in Hollywood right now. You can hear his music at his band's site. "If You Come with Me" is his best-known tune. Catchy and smart.

Ike Reilly Assassination, playing second, is a band I really don't know much about. They had a low key stage presence and the performance (aside from his four rabid fans seated in the middle of the lawn) left me feeling kind of ho-hum. I kept watching the fans to try and tune in to what this guy was about but it just wasn't happening. What kind of ticked me off about him was his total diss of WYEP and the three (THREE) live performance opportunities in Pittsburgh(the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the World Cafe taping, and the free WYEP show). He should have been grateful for the exposure.

His May release, "We Belong to the Staggering Evening," has received some decent reviews and he's considered a long-overdue "up and comer," a "genius drunk" or "brilliant lyricist" depending on which review you read, but I still didn't find any real connection with the outdoor live show having never heard his music first. He's playing the Austin City Limits Music Festival - check him out and let me know what you think. You can hear his music on myspace. Some gritty guitar. Some punk themes. Some hard driving rock. I'm going to check out more of his stuff before pronouncing that I don't care for him.

Kim Richey, the third performer in this day of free music, was as funny and as endearing as ever. She played a great set and garnered some new fans which is great! She deserves more fans that treasure her songwriting although I'd hate to start fighting for tickets to see her intimate shows at Club Cafe. Out of the front three bands, she was the only one to thank the fans and WYEP for providing a great venue for performing. And she knew enough to ask for free beer when she played her last song. My co-worker's husband, Jim, was kind enough to give her one as I'm sure many other fans did too.

One highlight of her performance was when the huge river boat, the Gateway Clipper, cruised past her on the river and blared its river horn a few times. She only heard the last deep blast after her song ended and asked the crowd how long that thing was blowing its horn because she thought it was her guitar player ("What in the WORLD is going on over there?!").

Her new CD, "Chinese Boxes," is due out July 10th and I love the title track and Jack and Jill. Yet another fabulous effort from Kim. We love you, Kim ... keep playing Pittsburgh a few times a year! Still don't know about Kim?! Check out her myspace page and read her blog. The airport entry is funny stuff! Keep your switchblade from Ray Kennedy (a great English footballer ... as in soccer) at home next time, dear.

Next up, the venerable (yes, still adorning a crew cut) Sinead O'Conner dressed in a green frock shirt over green pants (I swear, it was an Irish pantsuit from where I was sitting!). I guess having four children (the eldest now 20+ years old) takes its toll on your fashion options. That's okay ... I wasn't there to see her outfit. I have to keep my natural instinct in check to say something cheesy like ... it's been seven years ... and fifteen days ... since she last released a new CD ... even though it HAS BEEN seven years since her last release. Okay ... and not so much in check. Sorry.

Her shredding the photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live (still fresh as ever in some people's minds), her dark comments that always seem to make the front page, many references about her leaving live shows because she didn't "feel well," and life since being thrust into fame at age 23 filled with thoughts of suicide and philosophical meanderings about life and death and religion that very few outwardly express to the media, be damned! Actually, I have always admired her truthfulness even if it crushed her career in some ways although it would have ROYALLY pissed me off if she left a show I'd paid good money for because she didn't feel well (I'm catty that way). I should mention here that she was finally diagnosed with bipolar mental illness although swears that didn't cause any of the more notable outbursts. Her meds have really regulated her life into a peaceful calm of family life.

A lot of my friends had come to hear her and her only and I can't say that I really blamed them for leaving early (okay ... in a way, I thought that was just ignorance ... she's a brilliant vocalist and songwriter ... and I had to secretly wonder if they had been living under a rock) but they didn't do their homework on her newest double CD release "Theology." Tsk ... tsk ... early leavers! You missed "Black Boys on Mopeds" for an encore with her soaring legendary voice. And hey folks, she's only playing three U.S. dates - one in NYC, one in LA LA land, and one in Pittsburgh of all of the places! This was special.

Anyhow, I was in absolute awe from the first note to be sitting twenty feet from her. I mean ... OH MY GAWWWWWWWWD ... there's tiny little SINEAD freaking O'CONNOR tuning up on a stage just feet from me!!! Let's just say, she's still angry after all of these years but in a super subdued, let's get 'em with the truth in their faces and no shouting involved, way. She made a good point during her show. God is a much different conversation than religion.

She talked about God and the Palestinians and Israel. She was quiet and purposeful and the audience appreciative of even seeing her. At one point in the show, she scanned the crowd for a rastifarian but could find none until the bald man in the first row let her know that, even though he was bald too, he was, indeed rastafarian. I saw many, many fans with dreds. She played a few reggae inspired tunes including "Redemption Song" with her own twist to the lyrics. Her new CD, a double one, features the same tracks recorded in two different places - a small venue and a fully produced version. I can't say that I'll run out to buy it but it does make for intriguing music. It was such a thrill to see her, no matter what she sang.

M.o.e. closed the evening with a really interesting set of jazz/fusion guitar infused jam band music. The hillsides filled with patchoulli-wearing, glow stick throwing, fans and lots of high end audio recording equipment. They played a great show and, if my ears didn't deceive me, threw out more than just a few licks of Pittsburgh native George Benson's songs. At one point, the dancing throng shouted back "On BROADWAY... on broadway" which so took me back to growing up in Pittsburgh and listening to one native son who made it big. We danced the night away to M.o.e.'s great sound.

It was a fabulous day filled with interesting music in a fantastic venue (Alleghey landing ... with the Pittsburgh skyline and the Allegheny River in the background). I feel so lucky to live in Pittsburgh. Oh ... and we WERE voted Most Livable City once again. Rock on, 'Burgers! Rock on!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jackie Greene -- "American Myth"

I missed Robert Randolph's band the first weekend of the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Arts Festival (TRAF) because he was a "no show" and stuck in some airport in New Jersey (many, many BOO HISS's followed that announcement amidst the Grateful Dead and Dave Matthews tee shirt-adorned crowd -- we headed over to the Market Square venue and got to catch Phat Man Dee live which was a real treat aside from the Original Oyster House beer nazi but that's a story for another day -- and word has it that amazing mini concerts and drumming circles broke out after that announcement -- DAMN!).

There were plenty of other free music shows to be seen during the TRAF but Jackie Greene and Rickie Lee Jones were high on the "gee ... wouldn't it be GREAT to see them live" list. Kudos to WYEP FM yet again! They bring great shows to the TRAF every year. Jackie Greene highlighted the "Album of the Year " list for WYEP last year so I figured he was a good bet for a free live show. And, while I would have love, love, loved to see Rickie Lee live .... it wasn't meant to be.

Jackie is young looking. Very young looking. And, in fact, if wikipedia holds true, he's only 26. Okay ... yeah ... so ... I'm freaking ANCIENT then at 42 and could, truth be told, be his mother. *snicker* We guessed he was 21. Not bad. But oh, what an ancient soul sings at the mics. Two mics. One a standard and one from the old B movies with the wide, deep sound (sorry I don't know what the name of the mic is ... fill me in, if you do). Reviewers that compare him to Dylan are misguided, I think. Yeah, he's got that Dylan vibe on a few songs but he doesn't pretend to be Dylan in any way, shape, or form. Nor does he pretend to be Mick Jagger. He's just Jackie and he loves what he does which is play amazing live shows.

He entered the stage with black pants, black blazer, black sirt, and black shades ... Johnny Cash or Tom Petty or Dylan ... reincarnate? Nah. Just a Monterey, CA, boy with a great sense of rhythm and nice set of pipes.

His facial expressions, tightening this way (lip curling and cheeks up on high) and then releasing that way (eyes opening and mouth drooping), as he pulled the top note on his Gibson guitar ... tight and filled with vibrato. He appeared calm and reserved and into delta blues overdrive love or harmonica hooting (strung around his neck) ... for the tunes that sunk into that groove (many). His band was really tight and loose, at turns, but he definitely held the lead with his guitar virtuoso and stage presence.

The music carried him (and us) away, at times. He wailed on his numerous guitars and played, simultaneously, the organ and piano. He wailed on the harmonica. He smoked a lot on stage (as much as a live performer can smoke before the next refrain starts - much to the chagrin of a boisterous Mom behind us that kept shouting out -- "JACKIE! DON'T SMOKE!"). He bitched about the piano stool they gave him because it made it hard to play both keyboards at the same time ... but the crowd, they cheered on and he lit into his show closer after a standing ovation, which was so Rolling Stones ... oh SO ROCKING ... and delicious ... we didn't spend a moment's time on the poor stool selection or his lighting up another smoke ("Farewell, So Long, Goodbye").

Women shouted out "I'll Be Thinking 'Bout You" throughout the show and it is a good song but he didn't play it. Two fans near us in the second row sat there for hours with prime spots and were so happy to talk about Jackie and how he hooked them. We were just happy we had a spot to eat our $10 arts fest meals. One guy hopped up on a chair to get his autograph ... screaming his name into the travel trailer. Cool. It's always nice to encounter devoted fans.

Standouts for me included: I'm so Gone (great guitar intro and melody), Closer to You, and Farewell, So Long, Goodbye. Jackie's got a great delta vibe that can really only be experienced live. His CD falls short of his great skill.

If you want to find out more about Jackie Greene, check out his My Space page and his web site which features a huge warning that he doesn't appreciate live photos. Ah well ... Jackie, my man .... puffy eyes ... be damned! You're still cute. is no longer active. Bummer. JG is best experienced live. Go see him if he's around.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Anne McCue -- "Koala Motel"

Theresa and I finally got to see Anne McCue perform May 11, 2007, and it was worth the wait. We had tix for Valentine's Day but she was snowed in and canceled. Serious bummer when your Valentine's Day vibe is a no show. Uh huh. We made out somehow. *wink*

We were offered tix to a Scott Miller and the Commonwealth opener instead. Scott ... he's an okay performer and a great conversationalist. He's a little bit country and a lot boring, if you ask me, but maybe I've seen too many Pittsburgh homeboys and gals up there strumming their tales with as much acumen. Ech ... maybe. I dunno. He's alright. I like him as a human being. Now ... headliner Miss Anne McCue ... well, that's another story!

Man, can that woman wail on the guitar! She's an awesome musician. One of the tracks (I Want You Back) features Lucinda Williams which sounds great. Her drummer had to fill in for Lucinda's vocals at the show and joked that he probably wasn't drunk enough yet (guess either Lucinda fell off the wagon or he doesn't know she's sober these days). Driving Down Alverado was worth the price of admission. Truly.

Her fingers fly across the frets and her hair hides her expressionless expressions ... as she powers through it with musical dexterity rarely seen in a female guitar player. I was absolutely blown away, as was the crowd that had gathered to see Scott Miller and the Commonwealth. We were two of the few she greeted to sign her CD that had actually come to see HER perform. She seemed amused when she questioned first Theresa and then me about finding her by mistake. We reassured her that we were there to see HER. The rest were converts, I'm sure. Maggots.

She is an absolute master of the guitar and does this unbelievable lap steel guitar gig that had people asking what the hell the instrument was. Classic moment. For sure. The woman three tables back shouting out "what is THAT?!"

Whatever stringed instrument is laid before her, she plays it well. On Hellfire Raiser, you seriously could have heard a pin drop. She is not a great vocal performer. Not by any stretch. But her guitar virtuoso has to be witnessed in person to be believed. Honestly. She is waaaaay up there with the greats. And screw that asshat that questioned who she was on her My Space video of her Jimi Hendrix cover Machine Gun. She ain't no singer ... but MAN ... can that GIRL PLAY!

If you want to learn more about Anne McCue (and you should) check these sites out: her web site: or her My Space page. This is a guitar player to watch. She'll crop up on tons of songs. Just you wait and see.
Patty Griffin -- "Children Running Through"

First off, the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh is an excellent venue so I was REALLY excited to see Patty play there again. Second, her sound man was awful. But ... it WAS Patty after all ... and thank God for that! This woman CAN SING like few others live.

She came out, quietly, and sat down at the (poorly tuned) piano to begin her set and successfully crooned out two incredible tunes (set list below). Her fans love her so much. It's evident in the quiet envelope of her first two acoustic choices and it gave her a chance to show off her pipes. Much appreciated.

There were numerous posts to the Mad Mission fan board following the show but none of them commented on the crappola sound. I wasn't surprised because Patty fans are of the rabid variety that lean toward the "glass is half full" reviews. I still have some semblance of "well, .... okay" left in me to be objective. And I have to add, for those of you trying to figure out if you want to go see her as a newbie with little to no previous adoration embedded, she puts on one hell of a great solo artist show and she was nominated twice for a Grammy. Okay? And ... her voice is like pure velvet streaming down your back.

That said. Onto the other stuff.

Her set included:

J'irai La Voir Un Jour - solo/piano
First Star - solo/piano
Get Yourself Another Fool (Sam Cooke song)
Stay on the Ride
Trapeze (no Emmy Lou Harris but it lovely, nonetheless)
Useless Desires
Burgundy Shoes - piano
Kite Song - piano
As Cold as it Gets - solo
Mary - solo
Be Careful - Patty & Doug
When it Don't Come Easy
No Bad News
Love Throw a Line
Heavenly Day
I Don't Ever Give
Up Up to the Mountain - Patty vocals/Doug guitar Truth #2

Sweet Lorraine
Getting Ready

Personally, because I am such a crazy, rabid, nutball, off-the-charts "Flaming Red" CD fan, I love the harder rocking stuff on this new effort. The Heavenly Day song is ... um ... so, so for me. It's beautiful to hear her sing it live -- there is NO questioning THAT -- but it might have been a better second single off of this CD. Just my opinion. Burgundy Shoes is an absolute RINGER for the soft rock stations -- push THAT instead. Once again, my humble opinion. America needs some home comfort right now. That's an ace in the hole. Total Americana.

Her band totally rocked out on Truth #2 and No Bad News! It was a joy to watch her turn her back to us and fully engage with some hard strumming. WHEW! Man, she rocked those two and left us wanting more. Me, at least. *grin* The best part of the hard rockin' portion was watching Doug .... play a white wash bucket with his sticks ... the bucket flew off five feet in the air at the end. AWESOME!

Thank goodness that Dave Matthews' ATO Record label picked her up after that debacle with the Silver Bell CD. We are better human beings for having listened to her art. And how exciting is this? In 2007, the Atlantic Theater Company will produce "10 Million Miles," a musical based on the music of Patty Griffin, with book by Keith Bunin, directed by Michael Mayer. I mean ... really ... a TRIBUTE to her craft. It should be, if it's done right, awesome. It opens June 14th Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company at The Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th Street).

If you want to find out more about Patty or listen to her stuff, check out: her Mad Mission posting board for emails on her shows; her own site; or her My Space page. Enjoy! Bad sound men, be damned! Patty girl? You ROCK!
G. Love & Special Sauce -- "Lemonade"

Philadelphia native Garrett Dutton III, born a day after me nearly a decade later, offered up some tantalizing mixes that got the crowd movin' and groovin' at Mr. Smalls Theater April 11, 2007. This guy puts the punctuation on all of the right high notes with his gritty pseudo-rapping and harmonica wailing. Everything that comes out of the microphone is slurred to the point of no return for 40-somethings ... but you get the gist of it.

The place was packed and we hung out in the back bar, far from the swaying masses and drunken loan Harley dude off to the right. This guy could barely stand, let alone sing, and SING (loudly), he did. It was an interesting mix of young and old, hardcore biker dudes, and preppy frat dudes. *note to self: only two african americans spotted ... interesting. Theresa and I stood out like sore thumbs. We simply didn't fit the demographic but that didn't dull my enthusiasm for singing along with "My Baby's Got Sauce" and "Rodeo Clowns," his hit featuring Jack Johnson which I love, love, love ... no sauce, please.

The "G." in G. Love stands for "Good" and good, they are. No mystery there. The band, which started out in 1994, is now known for its live shows and I have to say, having seen him twice (once in Austin at the Austin City Limits Festival and once in Pittsburgh in a packed indoor show), he delivers. He has this great way of connecting with the audience and engaging them in the show. The band is really rocking and backs him superbly. You can't help but shout, "You CAN'T GO BACK to Jersey" when the full band is grooving away. And you know? You just can't. Go back to Jersey, that is.

Check out more information about G. Love & Special Sauce at their My Space page or their Fan Site page and, for God's sake, check them out live in your home town!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Alejandro Escovedo -- "The Boxing Mirror"

I really wish I could say that I saw some really incredible guitar playing last Saturday night. I can't. What I was able to discern five feet and two inches above the crowd (which ain't above the crowd when you're dug in near the bar, mind you) was an absolutely incredible artist with an amazing backing band tear down and rebuild a standing room only crowd at Club Cafe in Pittsburgh's South Side. How could I have missed this guy for so many years?! Okay, so I missed the drunken ride and got to hear his sober passion (that's PASSION, all in caps) strung out across the venue like Christmas lights.

Alejandro played with two celloists, a violinist, and two guitarists. My tall scouts for the stage reported back the instruments before the show started.

"No drumset?" I asked.

"No drums," came the reply from their tip-toed position above the crowd.

The three of us stood in awe for a moment, comprehending the immensity of his band's sound with the fact that he don't need no stinkin' drums, man. Well, alrighty then! Bring 'em on!

I kind of cheated for this show, having seen his live set on Austin City Limits (ACL), but figured there was no way in hell's half acre that he could load up that tiny stage with a quintet. I failed to register the fact that he had no drummer. Blame it on a late night or one too many beers, I reckon'. I was ecstatic that the entire ACL band was in attendance for the night's show.

My friends, Jeff and Christine, had caught his ACL act too (blew them away) and that was the only reason they were out slumming in the South Side with us that night. My girlfriend, Theresa, asked me what he looked like and I described him like this: he's tall, very hispanic looking, dark skinned, thin, wears a suit, and has very tidy hair. I can't say he's all that tall after having him wade past me to get to the green room to prep but the rest of the description fit. He wore a ruffled tux shirt underneath a black jacket and literally glided through the packed room. The guy's got mojo on top of mojo.

His band is tight. Think shoehorn tight and you'd be close. They complement each other and work through the expanding punk-like instrumental segues like butter gliding across an english muffin. It's rough in spots and gels in heavenly pools at moments. It's almost more than your lyrical brain, tapping toe, and personal spiritual journey can simultaneously take all in one crescendoed moment. (is that a word?) It's great jamming passion reminiscent of the old Doors or Dead but not nearly as long ... although some songs must have clocked in around ten minutes. He opened with Baby's Got New Plans, a soaring testiment to the tightness of the band and his vocal abilities. He hooked me on the first swell.

Stand outs included Dear Head on the Wall penned by his wife, poet Kim Christoff, from a truck stop with the only phone reception in the area that unfortunately for the vegan (then girlfriend of Alejandro) Christoff featured all sorts of dead animals on the walls. Alejandro told a great story about the poem yet confided that he really didn't understand it entirely but got the gist of it. Lucky for us, eh?

His quintet really broke loose for Break This Time, a rollicking tune underscored by life's tragedies (perhaps his nearly life-ending battle with Hepatitis C a few years back?) He performed a good number of songs from his acclaimed 2001 "A Man Under the Influence" CD with great gusto. All of the material seemed fresh: he played them with an incredible sensitivity and connection with the material that's often lacking after so much time.

He introduced Castanets with chagrin in knowing that Tony Snow published this as one of President Bush's iPod favorites. Eeeeee-GADS! I'm with you, Al.

All in all, a fantastic show, with many memorable moments and great sidebars from this humble, very talented man and his unbelievable backing band. I really lucked out on this pick and I'm grateful for it. Who knew that a punk upstart could create such musically dense, engaging, and satisfying music filled with strings? And who knew that Sheila E's uncle was such a rocker? And who knew that his entire family (damned near) is just as talented? Not me, that's for sure. What a delightful introduction to a new fav.

I can definitely see how he uses his musical ancestry intermingled with his life path to create his vibe. From latin jazz to rock to punk and alt-country; from Austin to San Fran and all the trips along the way, it's in there. It's a beautiful creation culled from years of artistic influences and personal observation squeezed through the seive of his triumphs and tragedies. When he yells "And everybody says they love me but I don't know why," it's as genuine and resounding today as when he performed it more than eight years ago. Only this time, when he sings the refrain, I'd bet that he gets a lot more love from the audience.

If you want to learn more about Alejandro Escovedo, check out his web site or his my space page for the latest information. Make sure you line up tickets if he's in your town. He will rock your soul.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Erin McKeown -- "Sing You Sinners"

Erin's show at Club Cafe March 3 was my first introduction to her live act. The place was sold out for the first show - not sure how the second show faired but I'd guess that it wasn't sold out based on Erin's cajoling the audience several times to "stick around for absolute insanity and general mayhem" that might ensue later. I had to wonder how many Erin McKeown fans there might be in Pittsburgh when I saw she was playing two shows back to back. I figured it was a good portence for her live side. I was kee-rekt! In a few more years, she might sell out two shows in one night.

Theresa and I mistook her similarly coiffed drummer, Allison Miller, for Erin when she and keyboardist Todd Sickafoose strolled through the front door 10 minutes before show time. Although, in retrospect, Allison's hair was much more controlled and intentional. Not that Erin's hair isn't, mind you. She intentionally cuts it herself and gels certain sections for maximum volume (I learned this by reading her myspace blog - evidently, she receives a ton of emails asking her how she makes her hair do "that" which, if you've never seen her live, shall remain a mystery). The overall effect, however, is random hair. I dug it.

She's a waif on stage, standing under 5' 2", with powerful runners' legs usually posed in a wide- open guitar-wailing stance and a smile that appears frequently as more of a commanding grin. She owns the stage and works the audience like a seasoned pro. I was amazed at how much voice eminated from this tiny, charismatic woman. For this tour, she and Allison sport neckties over collared shirts with a tee shirt underneath and bitchin' worn out shoes. The familiar tattoo of her birth date peers out from her shirt sleeve as a constant reminder to her and the audience - that this woman has come far in her 28 years and has a lot of options for growth. The fact that she tours endlessly (averaging 200 shows a year) lends credence to her love of music and her fans. And the fact that she doesn't own a TV.

The audience was a really mixed bag. There were two much older couples (let's guess 60's or older) with seats that were hard to come by and, we assumed, parents of the keyboardist and some other relations (we swore one woman looked like Erin's mother which could be since they live in Virginia, I believe) with a horde of twenty somethings seated up front on the floor with sprinklings of 30-and 40- somethings mingled within. It's always nice to see such diversity in a music venue.

Erin's newest CD might be pegged as yet another artist's attempt to redo the classic jazz songs of the 20's through the 50's but do not be mistaken with face value. Her take on these gems is unique and decidedly tongue in cheek. She culls out the dark and sexy side of these songs to claim them as her own. Theresa and I had fun trying to guess which songs Erin wrote and which were truly jazz classics although Theresa has an uber grasp of all things jazz and old, correcting my disillusioned assumptions quickly. Take for instance "If You a Viper" which starts out:

"Dreamed about a reefer 5 feet long, mighty miff but not too strong, you'll be high but not for long ... if you a viper"

Could have been written yesterday, I reckoned. But I'd be wrong. This little ditty was written in 1938 and Erin does it great (insert her onstage 30 second inhale and exhale) justice with her interpretation. Fabulous stuff! And fun, fun, fun!

You'll get all of the insight and subliminal "outsight" from Ms. McKeown at her live show. I wouldn't want to spoil all the fun and the absolutely uplifting take on an interesting period of music. She's a fantastic guitarist and vocalist. Allison Miller is only icing on the cake with her mean drumming and their rehearsed "Erin throws Allison's cymbal on the ground" interaction toward the later half of the show. It's all well worth the small price of admission.

Erin has a brandy spanking new CD due out this summer. Evidently, Sing You Sinners was only a time-killer of pure desire in her march toward funky creation. With a smile and talent like hers, she can't lose. Check out her web site for more information on this diverse indie artist.

Oh ... and Bruce? Thanks for the kick in the arse! Congrats to you and your fiance!