On Thursday I went to see a show at Cafe 939 in Boston, featuring Ruston Kelly (solo), Sean Rowe (solo) and Marcus Foster (with his band). I had seen Sean Rowe do a short opening set last year in Cambridge, and I really liked him; he was the reason I was attending this concert. I hadn’t heard the other performers before.
Cafe 939 is in many ways an excellent music venue – it’s run largely by students from Berklee College of Music, which can give it a bit of an amateur feel, but the sound and lighting is really good, and it’s overall a nice place to see a show as long as you do not require much in the way of refreshments. It’s all-ages and alcohol-free, and you have to go outside into the cafe part to get water or juice.
Ruston Kelly was the first act, and I was very pleasantly surprised by his performance. Usually the first of three bands in a $15 concert is someone you’d rather skip over – but when he started singing, I was immediately glad that I’d come early enough to see him. He is a very good singer with a nice voice (and I give him bonus points for having Robert Frost poetry written on his guitar). He’s quite young (early 20s) but I think he might be someone to keep an eye on. He is already writing some pretty good songs and I imagine he’ll only get better from here.
Sean Rowe was up next, and the first song he did was “Signs” from his latest album “The Salesman and the Shark.” It just happens to be one of my very favorite songs he’s written, so I managed to get my camera out of my pocket in time to film almost the whole song:
I absolutely love that deep voice he has. And he’s been writing some seriously good songs lately. He played a really solid set overall, I enjoyed it very much. Like the other time I saw him, he played a Leonard Cohen cover to close out his set – last time it was “Bird On A Wire,” this time it was “Chelsea Hotel No. 2.” His voice is perfect for singing Cohen songs, he really gives them the weight and depth that they need. I am already looking forward to seeing him again at Passim’s in June. (He is doing quite a bit of touring in the US and UK in the next few months, so check his tour schedule and see if he’ll be in your neighborhood!)
As I mentioned in my last post, I managed to get last-minute tickets to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at the Boston Orpheum this weekend. The Orpheum is as dingy as ever, but I actually had a better venue experience than I did the last couple of times I was there. The security staff seemed to be actually doing their jobs, and – this may be related – I did not get hit, groped, or have beer spilled on my head like last time. I also had a much better seat – not as in “we had great seats!”, but the actual thing you sit on. Last time I was there, I had to move because my seat was installed so poorly that you really couldn’t sit in it. Really, it’s that bad at the Orpheum these days.
Sharon van Etten was the opening act, but I don’t feel like I can fairly review her set – there was a lot of distraction going on around me while she was playing. The “loud talkers” next to me who talked through the whole thing, and then the seats behind me turned out to have been sold twice by the box office, which led to a protracted discussion with multiple venue staff and the four people who had all bought the same seats. (Once again: the Orpheum is really not a very good venue. How do you sell the same seats twice?!) Luckily all of this was sorted out by the time Nick Cave and his band came on stage!
I have to admit that I’ve fallen off the Nick Cave train for the last ten years or so – I don’t have any of the recent albums, and haven’t much liked the occasional new material that I’ve heard. That is why I hadn’t gone to see him since the 90s. I saw such a fantastic show in ’98 or ’99 that I was a little afraid to see a newer one in case it was a big disappointment in comparison. But a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go, and it turns out that I’m a pretty easy mark when you want me to go to a concert 😉 Anyway, this all meant that I hadn’t heard more than about 60 seconds of music from the new album, “Push the Sky Away,” and therefore was unfamiliar with the first (more…)
Sometimes the randomness of my life and concert touring schedules means that I find myself without a good concert to go to for weeks at a time. I’m currently halfway through a two-week concert desert, but I didn’t want to let my blog sit here with no new posts! So here’s an update on the goings-on of the temporarily concertless concert blogger.
I just finished reading Bettye Lavette‘s autobiography, “A Woman Like Me.” I picked up a copy at her last concert in Boston. It was a fun and easy read, and I found it to be written very much in her own highly unique voice. Assuming everything in there is true, she has lived quite a crazy life! I really can’t decide if I think she is a great bullshitter or if the book is brutally honest. Maybe some of each, who knows? Most people will probably find something controversial in the book – drugs, sex, prostitution, domestic violence – but it’s a good read nonetheless.
On Saturday night, I saw a very fun concert: Juan de Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All Stars. They played at the Berklee Performance Center, which is in many ways a very nice venue, but it has a strange way of sucking the life out of the music and making you feel a bit divorced from the proceedings on stage. It’s a little too clean, too precise. When I saw Glen Hansard there last year, he almost seemed a bit aggravated about how quiet the audience was – but there’s just something about that place that makes you want to sit back and relax. It works really well for certain kinds of music, but not for bands that want to throw a party. So it wasn’t really the perfect venue for this group, since they were very much a “get up and dance!” kind of band. They did eventually manage to get people up, though – the singers came down on the floor with wireless microphones and got the crowd going:
The Afro-Cuban All Stars have been around for almost 20 years, sharing Cuba’s musical legacy with the world. They are probably best known for their involvement with the legendary Buena Vista Social Club, although the current lineup is not really similar to the BVSC album/film.
There were a lot of highlights during Saturday’s show; I was very impressed by Laura Lydia Gonzalez’ big clarinet solo (especially considering how young she appears to be!). Another part I loved was (more…)
On Tuesday I went to see a concert that was part of the Boston Jewish Music Festival. Tim Sparks and Noah Lubin were playing at Passim’s in Harvard Square in Cambridge. Passim’s is a small and very intimate basement venue with a capacity just over 100. They primarily focus on folk music, but they aren’t too strict about genre. It’s a room with a lot of history – it’s been in its current location for 50 years, and legends like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits played shows there early in their careers.
I have a couple of Tim Sparks’ albums, but I had never seen him perform live; I was excited that he was playing a gig so close to home, and bought tickets as soon as they went on sale, landing me a spot in the front row.
I hadn’t heard of Noah Lubin before, so I was interested to see what kind of music he would play with his band. It turned out to be laid-back bluesy roots music with Bible-themed lyrics. While my tastes tend to run more to music that grabs you by the throat and shakes you around a little, I did enjoy his set a lot. It happened to be a day where I really needed to relax a little and it was very nice to kick back with a drink and watch Lubin’s set. You can listen here to a song from his most recent album:
Tim Sparks was up next, and his set was quite different from Mr. Lubin’s. He played a steel-string acoustic guitar and coaxed a really nice tone out of it. He told us about being asked by John Zorn to contribute to Tzadik Records’ Radical Jewish Culture series, and joked that it was especially radical for him to contribute, because he’s not Jewish! But of course music is not genetic, and Mr. Sparks has made some beautiful albums of Jewish music for Tzadik, including a lot of tunes by both John Zorn and Naftule Brandwein, two people who have been extremely influential on the genre in very different ways.
I filmed one of the most beautiful solo pieces he played:
I was thoroughly impressed with Tim Sparks’ set, every piece he played was excellent and beautifully performed.