Friday, December 29, 2006

Jenn Wertz-- "Shotgun Sessions"

It was nice to get out and see a live show after the hectic holidays. Theresa and I went to see her sister, Jenn Wertz, perform at Club Cafe in the South Side December 27 with opener, Gary Musisko. We got there early enough to grab some seats -- lucky thing, too, because the show sold out early.

I've seen Jenn perform with Rusted Root but never with her old band, Isabella, featuring guitarist Frank Danyo, drummer "Shaggy" Frank Marcello, and bassist Randy Venturini. Jenn played acoustic guitar and sang up a bluesy, alt-country, rockin' storm. She's personable on stage and connects with longtime and new fans by sharing insights about the songs and joking with fellow bandmates. You can tell they're old friends by the way they work together and have fun. Her voice sounded GREAT!

At one point during the show, a woman began dancing in front of the stage and before we knew it, strolled up behind Jenn onstage and began dancing very closely to her. Everyone was taken back and Jenn played it off well before the bouncers grabbed her. Guitarist Frank Danyo put her and the audience at ease when he playfully moved behind her, mimicking the dancing drunk. Note to self: Unless you've been asked to share the stage, it's just rude to assume you can.

Root fans should get out and see them on their next tour opening February 7 in Allentown and continuing across the east coast until March at the Chicago House of Blues. Jenn mentioned that this may be the last tour with her as she branches out in different directions. She's been touring with RR since 1990. Liz Berlin has also done some solo work as has Michael Glabicki. Michael has formed a new group on the side. Former Root drummer, J.D. (Jim Donovan), will be drumming it up for Pittsburgh's First Night celebration New Year's Eve.

I can't close without mentioning the awesome performance by opener Gary Musisko. Gary's voice reminds me of Jeff Buckley or Thom Yorke from Radiohead. His show was passionate and engaging. It's a shame that more of the people crowding in didn't get to hear his show because they were talking and ordering up drinks. Damn shame! They missed a great show. Gary has a lot of promise and is currently recording his first CD due out in a month.

Jenn will be performing January 13th in Erie (at Docksiders) and in July at the 16th Annual Great Blue Heron Music Festival. Get out and support local bands!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Raul Malo -- "You're Only Lonely"

I got to see Raul play Pittsburgh's Byham Theater, a gorgeously restored place with gold-infused paintings on the Michealangelo level, December 1st. Theresa is a huge Raul fan and we attended with fellow fan, Tammy, and her husband, Bob.

The show started out really strong with Raul sweetly crooning away his newest "You're Only Lonely" CD hits and his sweet-talking/joking with the audience about how great Pittsburgh was and how he's always going to play here. He played with a three-piece backing band consisting of an organ, drummer, and bass player. I enjoyed the show for the first few songs and then lost interest.

First, as Bob (a drummer himself) later commented, the drummer kept dropping his sticks. Second, Raul could not remember the lyrics to songs like "Moon River." And third, the band had to send out the lyric handbook so Raul could sing approximately two-thirds through the show. Fourth, Raul would erratically stop playing lead guitar several times throughout the show to shake hands with female fans. WTF?

It was a Raul debacle on the highest level, if you ask me. He needs to reassess how much he enjoys touring and playing music in general. My two cents. For what it's worth.

Did anyone else have the same experience? I'm curious. Drop me a line.

Raul? Buck up. And respect your fans. We're loyal in as far as you can perform for your ticket price. Further than that and, my friend, you're pushing the limits.

Nuff said.
Citizen Cope and Alice Smith -- "Every Waking Moment" and "For Lovers, Dreamers & Me"

I got the chance to see Cope at Mr. Smalls Theater in Pittsburgh November 10th. His opener was Alice Smith from NYC. The place was absolutely packed and not 40-something friendly in terms of navigation or hearing your friend standing a foot away. Otherwise, a really fabulous show in a great space.

Rusted Root band member Liz Berlin owns Mr. Smalls with her husband and they made a great effort to restore a church to performance-worthy levels. They used old doors as sound bevels on the walls above and a cadre of sound deadeners on the overhead structure to increase the ambient sound. If they can bar the unruly twenty-somethings shouting out "COPE COPE COPE" throughout the show, it would be truly world class. All kidding aside, it's a great space. They also have an actual recording studio that's been well-used.

Theresa and I broused the tour merchandise table for a few moments before an older woman spoke up, enthusiastically recommending Alice Smith's newest CD.

"Have you heard her?" we asked.

"Oh yes! She's really good. You'll love her! I know her personally" the woman responded.

In retrospect, we realized the woman was probably her mother. And, you know what? She was right! Alice Smith is the greatest find we've had this year. She is a little bit Macy Gray and a little bit Fiona Apple and a just a smidge of Aretha Franklin. She soars across four octave ranges and winds in and out of Violent Femmes backbeats fused with R&B, gospel, and jazz with fresh lyrics and emotion rarely captured in a voice. Her CD is really good and offers a different view with each listen. There are many musical layers to it and hidden vocal gems. It's quite simply NUTS good.

Cope introduced her as the "freshest musician he's heard in a very long time" and we'd have to agree. The audience was unsure at first; hooked into her infectuous vibe and seering vocals after two songs. I highly recommend her. Two thumbs up. Enthusiastically. Vehemently. Non-stop in the CD-player, you'll love her, buy-it and get it on ... yes. She's under the radar for now but not for long. Her live performance using Cope's band was unbelievable. She obviously LOVES what she's doing every minute of the performance. Alice Smith is up for 'Female Artist of the Year' in the PLUG: Independent Music Awards! She deserves it! Word had it she just signed with Sony.

Cope performed in his usual laid-back style. Reserved for the most part and letting his music and lyrics shine. Clarence Greenwood is not one to say a lot other than to thank the audience for singing along to the more notable hits. "Awwwww ... that sounds soooooooo sweet," a typical aside. He brought Alice back out to sing with him at the end which was truly inspiring. She would make a great addition to his band line-up but will sail off to her own fame and fortune, I'm sure.

While I commented that "Every Waking Moment" was memorable but not on a par with his earlier releases, I have to say the CD has really grown on me. It stands on its own but recycles a lot of his earlier releases rhythms. It's okay. It's Cope, after all, and his band is excellent.

Theresa and I ended up huddling at the back bar, far from the main throng, at the end and it was a great perch to watch the Cope fans and slip out the side door after the show ended. Clarence never fails to perform and has never disappointed. Alice was an extra-added bonus. HURRAH!