Concert review: Preservation Hall Jazz Band (11/19/2013)

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band made a rare visit to Cambridge last week, making their first appearance at the Sinclair in Harvard Square. For an extra treat, the show was mercifully inexpensive, a fraction of the ticket price of the other two times I’ve seen them in the Boston area: just $10 including all taxes and fees. Awesome! They had no trouble selling out the 500+ capacity venue at that price. The Sinclair’s standing-room-only setup is also a huge improvement on the other Boston shows I saw, which were both seated at extremely sedate venues which allowed no dancing whatsoever. There was no shortage of dancing at the Sinclair! It’s really becoming one of my favorite mid-size venues in the area.

The Sinclair’s habit of shining lights directly into the front rows of the audience made my camera pretty worthless for most of the show (“Enjoy this five minute video of BLINDING LENS FLARE!“) but I did manage to get one pretty cool shot of Clint Maedgen chilling out with his gorgeous white saxophone while listening to a piano solo.

Clint Maedgen

PHJB always puts on a fun show, classic New Orleans jazz that makes you want to get up and dance every time. Highlights of this particular set for me included “St. James Infirmary,” which they did a sort of double take on, with (more…)

Concert Review: Marc Ribot Trio at the Village Vanguard (11/9 & 11/10/2013)

This weekend I was lucky enough to be able to go to New York and attend the last two nights of the Marc Ribot Trio residency at the Village Vanguard. They had played their first Vanguard residency last summer, and I attended some of those shows as well, so I had a pretty good idea of just how special these concerts might be. The Vanguard – while not an ideal venue at first glance (it’s crowded, has weird sight-lines, etc.) – is practically oozing jazz history from the walls, and when you’re there you can’t help but feel the weight of nearly eighty years of performances by jazz icons like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus. The audiences tend to be peppered with music tourists who want to experience what may be the most famous jazz club in the world – I sat near two different people who appeared to have no idea who the band was, and were just there because “it’s the Vanguard!” I guess there are upsides and downsides to that as a musician – you can win over some new jazz-loving fans, but you can also face some skepticism if you are not a straight-up jazz player. But the experience as an audience member is like – well, if you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show with some kind of downtown smoky basement jazz club, it was probably based on the Village Vanguard. It’s like that. And the sound is excellent.

The Marc Ribot Trio consists of Marc Ribot on guitar (naturally!), Henry Grimes on bass, and Chad Taylor on drums. Ribot is an incredibly versatile guitarist who plays everything from rock to jazz to classical to punk to surf guitar, and has performed with a very wide variety of musicians both live and in studio. He also has a number of his own bands and projects (Marc Ribot Trio/Spiritual Unity, Cubanos Postizos, Ceramic Dog, etc.), all of which are worth checking out. Chad Taylor is a drummer who has played with a long list of impressive jazz and indie rock collaborators, from Cooper-Moore to Iron & Wine to Eugene Chadbourne. Henry Grimes has perhaps the most unusual life story of any musician I’ve ever seen – he was an important up-and-coming young bass player in the 50s and 60s, playing with people like Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins, but he dropped out of the scene completely and suddenly. No one really knew where he was, and for many years people assumed he was dead. In 2002 a particularly determined fan discovered that he was living in California, no longer performing after being forced to give up his instrument some 35 years previously due to bad luck and finances. With help from some fellow musicians and fans he was able to procure an instrument and start performing again… and in spite of all those years away, he is still amazing.

I got there early enough on Saturday night to be the first person in the door, so I was able to snag one of the best seats in the house. I misjudged a little bit because when the band came on stage it turned out that Henry Grimes’ bass was blocking my view of Chad Taylor, but on the plus side I had what I believe to be the only seat in the entire place where you could sneak perfect photos of Marc Ribot from underneath the table where the camera wouldn’t bother anyone:


I didn’t plan it that way, but sometimes life just works out in your favor like that! I only took a couple of flashless photos and a short video clip for my blog readers, because it really wasn’t (more…)

Halloween Festivities 2013: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; Muertos III; and Cirque of the Dead

I can’t believe it’s been over two weeks since my last blog post! Excuses include: a concert was cancelled, I’ve been ill, I’ve been working overtime (and throwing in freelance hours on weekends), it was my mom’s birthday… you get the idea. Anyway, in between all that (and slotted in between World Series games) I did manage to attend three music-oriented seasonal events for Halloween and Day of the Dead.

The most recent one was called Muertos III: A Day of the Dead Fiesta of Local Food and Fantasmic Music. I don’t like to badmouth well-intentioned people too much in public, so I’m not going to name anyone but the bands. The dinner/drinks side of things was basically a disaster as far as I was concerned, so they are better left unlinked and unpublicized. (I’d been there for an hour and a half before I managed to score a glass of water, to give you an idea… and I only got that because one of the people giving out samples for Slumbrew , a local beer brewing company, was nice enough to take a moment to help me out when I was about to be turned away from the bar for the third time without a drink. I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer beer companies with kind employees!)

There were two bands playing at the Muertos event, and both of them were great: first up was Mariachi Estampa de America, who are – you guessed it! – a local mariachi band. They walked around the dance floor and played acoustically while people were (mostly) eating dinner and/or waiting in line for the buffet. I am not exactly an expert on mariachi music, but I thought they were good and I enjoyed their set very much. The other band playing was Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys (with special guest: Dr. Teeth) – I’m a big fan of theirs and it was the prospect of seeing them that dragged me out into the depths of Somerville. I was not disappointed!

That right there is Walter Sickert and Dr. Teeth, and yes, of COURSE they have matching sunglasses. Dr. Teeth was notable not just for being the only Muppet-American in the band, but also because (more…)