Review(s): My weekend of unrelated music featuring Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Tim Berne & HONK! NYC

After being sick last week, I was really in the mood to get out and see some shows this past weekend. I was in luck, because there was a lot of good stuff on the concert calendar. (Did you notice I added an NYC concert calendar to the sidebar? I did. It’s sort of in beta testing right now, but check it out if you’re in the area and let me know what you think.)

First up on Saturday night was the duo of Chris Thile (mandolin, guitar) and Edgar Meyer (upright bass, piano) at Town Hall. I’ve repeatedly had bad luck getting good seats for shows at Town Hall, but this time my ticket karma came through. The show had gone on sale months before I moved to NYC and I’d long ago given up hope of getting any kind of decent seat. But I kept checking back just in case… and about a week before the show: front row dead center popped up on Ticketmaster. Yes, please, and thank you!

I didn’t even really know what kind of music they’d be playing – I was so busy this summer I’m behind on listening to absolutely everything, and I was mostly just going on my friend Mark’s recommendation to see them. I’ve seen Chris Thile a few times before, but was new to the work of Edgar Meyer. Thile is a virtuoso and you can generally expect him to do amazing things, but I was really blown away by Meyer’s bass playing. Holy cow, can that man handle an upright bass! I’ve seen a lot of concerts, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bassist play like that. I found myself watching him almost the whole time. I’m skipping the videos I took myself and giving you something professionally recorded since the audio quality is so key with these two:

They are at the tail end of their U.S. tour, but there are two more dates this week in Ann Arbor and Chicago. Click here for details on the tour and their new album.

Sunday night was a totally different scene: the last night of saxophonist Tim Berne’s residency at the Stone. I’d wanted to catch a couple of nights but wasn’t feeling up to it until the weekend, when he was playing with two different (but similar) bands. The early set was “Decay,” with Tim Berne on sax, Ryan Ferreira on electric guitar, Michael Formanek on upright bass and Ches Smith on drums (because, clearly, I didn’t hear enough of his drumming during his own residency the week before!). The late set was “Cornered,” with those four plus Oscar Noriega on clarinet and Matt Mitchell on piano. These bands were fairly similar to his (relatively) well-known band, Snakeoil, which had played for several nights in a row earlier in the week.

I’d seen Snakeoil once before, two or three years ago, and didn’t love them, but it was clear that Tim Berne was not feeling well on that particular night, so I put it on my “try again later” list to give them a fair shot. I liked it a lot more this time – enough that I stuck around for the second set when I had only been planning to stay for the early set. I would definitely see them again. Interesting jazz, challenging on an intellectual level but not on an aural level (i.e., not full of high-pitched squealing saxophones or atonal noise). If you’re interested in giving them a listen, there are lots of good-quality videos of them playing at the Stone on Youtube.

Monday night – which I’m counting as part of the weekend because it was a holiday and some folks didn’t have to work – was one of those low-hanging-fruit concerts, in that there was a free show I was interested in seeing that started 5 minutes after I left work, 200 meters from the door to my office building. The only thing that would be easier is if they came and played in my actual office (but even that wouldn’t really be easier, because it was a large band, and the doorman would make them all show ID and sign into the guestbook and it would take forever to get them all up to the 10th floor in the elevators). The band in question was the NYC-based Hungry March Band and they were kicking off HONK! NYC, which is the sort of aftershock/afterparty of the original HONK! in Somerville, Massachusetts. If I’m being perfectly honest, HONK! is about the only thing I have been sad about missing back in my old hometown… so it’s nice that they have a version of it here, even if it’s not quite the same. (You can read about HONK! in my review from last year’s festival if you’re not familiar with it.)

This show was really fun, in spite of the weather turning chilly, breezy, and rainy. I know from experience that this area at rush hour is pretty grim, full of office-workers determined to get to their commuter train/subway as soon as possible with as little human interaction as they can manage. (I won’t deny being one of them!) So the fact that the band soon had a crowd of enthusiastic, cheerful people gathered around, dancing and clapping along with the music, is a testament to their ability to entertain an audience. They put a lot of effort into crowd interaction, dancing with bystanders, loaning out pom-poms and batons, bringing kids up on stage, etc. And the music was just plain fun.

There are a few more nights of HONK! NYC events in the next few days, which you can see on their Facebook events page: http://www.facebook.com/HonkNYC/events. I’m not sure how many I can make it to, but I’m hoping to get to the Saturday afternoon event, at the very least. (One of Kenny Wollesen’s bands will be there, which might be a bit of a bridge between HONK! fest and the avant jazz stuff we’ll be seeing that evening at c3’s benefit at Roulette featuring a lot of great downtown jazz musicians.)

There are tons of good shows coming up here in NYC – as I mentioned before, you can check out the new calendar in the sidebar to see a few shows that I think are going to be worth seeing.

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2 Responses to Review(s): My weekend of unrelated music featuring Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Tim Berne & HONK! NYC

  1. Seth G-S says:

    Have you discovered any new favorite venues yet, now that you are a Manhattan resident?

    • Sarah V. says:

      Hmm, good question. I think I’ve only been to three new places so far (Music Hall of Williamsburg, Rockwood Music Hall, and Monty Hall, and isn’t it weird that all three of them are Halls of some kind?). I really liked Rockwood 3 – a small and intimate basement room – and Monty Hall was quite a strange place, but I liked it a lot.

      There is still a long list of avant-jazz venues that I’ll probably end up going to at some point, many of them in Brooklyn which is a bit of a hike for me coming from uptown…

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