Ten concerts since I last managed to write a review, terrible blogger shame… but let us talk about the glorious week that was the Cyro Baptista residency at the Stone! I badly wanted to see all six nights, but I slept poorly all week and didn’t have the energy for it, so I only managed three nights and regretted all the ones I missed. The ones I did manage to catch were Beat the Donkey; Banquet of the Spirits with special guest Nels Cline; and Banquet of the Spirits with special guests Peter Apfelbaum and John Lee. (I honestly didn’t choose those three with any real plan, I simply went to the first night and then was too tired to ever go out two nights in a row, so I attended every other night.)
The first night was the one with Nels Cline guesting on guitar and Banquet of the Spirits. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Mr. Cline is the guitarist for Wilco, who are kind of a big deal in the indie rock scene. Naturally, when he plays with a great band in a one-off show at a tiny venue like the Stone, there will be long lines. I showed up about 20 minutes later than I was hoping to, and ended up with a seat in the back corner which was only tolerable because we had a great view of the keyboards. Banquet of the Spirits features Brian Marsella on keyboards, and he’s one of my all-time fave keyboard players, so I was pretty happy in spite of my view otherwise consisting of the backs of people’s heads. Although sometimes that can be interesting, too…
This concert was sort of like launching the residency with a baseball bat to the head (…in a good way? Is that possible?). It was very heavy and loud and powerful (disclaimer: we were sitting really close to the bass amps, which may have substantially influenced my aural experience). It was fun, but also hot and crowded and I ended up deciding not to stay for the late set since I was feeling pretty worn out. Later, I regretted leaving, but if I’d gone to every concert I regretted missing afterwards, I’d be somewhere between broke and dead by now, I expect.
The next night I managed to see was also Banquet of the Spirits, but with guests John Lee and Peter Apfelbaum instead of Nels Cline. It wasn’t as crowded without his star power, but these two sets ended up being my favorites of the week. Less power, but more melody and fun. I had seen Banquet of the Spirits play several times before as a foursome (Cyro Baptista on percussion; Tim Keiper on drums; Brian Marsella on keyboards; and Shanir Blumenkranz on bass/oud/gimbri) but this was my first time seeing both John Lee (guitar) and Peter Apfelbaum (horns) and I thought those two were both great and added a lot to the quartet. Great solos, great musicianship all around. Both of these sets were stellar and earned multiple well-deserved encores. They played a couple of songs from the previous night’s project, Vira-Loucos, which were amazing and made me feel even worse for having missed it.
Unlike the show earlier in the week, I had one of the best seats in the house, front row center, from which to enjoy the night to the fullest. (L to R: John Lee, Shanir Blumenkranz, Peter Apfelbaum, Tim Keiper.)
The final night that I was able to attend was two back-to-back sets of Beat the Donkey. I’d seen them before (at a much larger venue) so I knew what to expect, kind of – but seeing them from the front row at the Stone is a very different experience. They were crazy and fun and explosive. I took some short video clips but the proximity of the big drums made for very distorted sound. Instead, I made an animated GIF to give you an idea of the energy in that room:
Kinda says it all, right there.
I was even more impressed with John Lee during these sets than I had been during the previous show – he brought a lot of energy and fun to the stage, and played some pretty bad-ass guitar solos. One of my favorite parts of the whole night was the sort of Simon-Says-style duet between Lee on guitar and Lisette Santiago on theremin, where they faced off and tried to copy each other’s sounds on two very different instruments. I loved the creativity and you could tell the band was having fun.
As I went back to proofread this, I realized that I wrote an entire review of Cyro Baptista’s residency without actually talking about him… see: earlier mentions of me being very tired. 😉 He was, in all cases, his usual amazing musical self: an immensely talented percussionist and a very funny guy, with a talent for finding and bringing together ensembles of truly talented young musicians to make something greater than the sum of its parts. I guess it says something when I spent 5-6 hours in one week seeing his bands and feel really bad that I didn’t see more. If you get a chance to see one of his bands, don’t miss it!
BONUS: Tweet-length reviews of shows I’ve given up on finding time to actually review:
Brian Marsella’s Imaginarium: I’m a big fan of Brian Marsella, so I was excited to see this band for the first time. Really enjoyed it. Bought the CD later, it’s great.
Stone Halloween benefit: ~15 musicians doing round-robin improv. Especially enjoyed contributions from Maoz, Blumenkranz, Friedlander, Norton & unnamed guy in spacesuit.
Hikashu: Hadn’t heard them before and was incredibly impressed. Massively fun and energetic band. Strongly recommend checking out their live shows.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Pros: A+ performance with Allen Toussaint at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Cons: had to go to Brooklyn, was hit in the neck with a frisbee.
Marc Ribot Trio: Henry Grimes’ 79th birthday party, lots of fun at late-night LPR set. I was blown away by the bluesy encore. Extra points for sharing cake.