Part of the reason I’m such an enthusiast for live music is that the experience is always unique and, to some extent, unpredictable. Case in point: I’d had my concert calendar laid out for April since the first week of the month, but this week I ended up ditching my plans a couple of times for last-minute surprise concerts. One was announced just hours before the show, one was announced a few days in advance. Luckily, since I am a person who is relatively unattached to other people’s schedules, I was able to drop my plans and make it to both events. There was some kind of synchronicity at work, with two of my favorite female vocalists/songwriters announcing last-minute shows in Brooklyn two days apart; but the shows were pretty drastically different.
The first one was a Record Store Day concert kicking off the Dresden Dolls‘ release of the Virginia Monologues, a vinyl collection of their two albums Yes, Virginia and No, Virginia. They did a free concert at the Rough Trade record store in Williamsburg, which I think has a capacity around 250 in the venue attached to the store. It was the first time I’d been there when the balcony was open, so I took the opportunity to nab a spot up there – it was an unusually hot day and the GA floor area was unpleasant, temperature-wise, so I was hoping the balcony would have a bit more airflow (it didn’t, but I had a nice view, so that was OK).
The Dresden Dolls have been on hiatus for a while – I actually happened to catch their last performance, which was just a couple of songs at a benefit show in the Boston metro area in 2013. I’d enjoyed those two songs a lot so I figured it would be worth trekking out to Brooklyn early to check out a full set from them. Unfortunately the L train wasn’t running between Manhattan and Williamsburg on Record Store Day because the MTA hates us, so it took me close to two torturous hours to get there, including multiple trains, walking, and an illegal Uber street pick-up when I got desperate. I narrowly avoided taking the G train for the first time ever. But I got there, and I got in, and the awesome bartender gave me a free ice-cold non-alcoholic beverage, so it was all good.
They came out pretty darn close to on-time (which was impressive and greatly appreciated as I was dripping sweat before the show even started – damn, Rough Trade, do you not have air conditioning??) and as expected, the show was intense. I have a bit of a weakness for melodramatic/cabaret type rock music, and the Dresden Dolls are pretty much the epitome of that. The whole set was good, but most of my favorites were towards the end – “Half Jack,” a cover of “War Pigs,” “Sing” and the explosive encore, “Girl Anachronism.” When I wasn’t watching the stage, I was enjoying watching the crowd up front – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an audience enjoying themselves that much at a show! Dancing, singing, smiling. The joy on their faces was visible all the way up in the balcony.
Thanks to the crowdfunders on Patreon.com, the concert was beautifully filmed and webcast. (It was actually archived online before I got home from the show, which is both a tribute to the professionalism of the webcast and the absolute horror of getting from Williamsburg to Harlem with no L train on a Saturday night.) It will be available to the general public in a few days, at which point I will link it here. (Edit: It’s up!)
The second surprise show I saw will be a familiar name to readers of this blog – really familiar, since the very last blog I wrote included performances by four of the five band members. Jolie Holland played a show at Bar LunÀtico, a venue I’d never been to before. It might be my new favorite bar! What a cool little place – just a great vibe and perfect ambience for this show. It’s pretty tiny – I’m guesstimating somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 seats including bar stools. Intimate performances with a nice glass of wine and candlelit tables? Yes, please. It’s gorgeous. I snapped a terrible cell-phone pic during the sound-check, which turned out to be one of those rare photos where the awful photo quality makes it look like a nice painting if you squint at it the right way. (Although I give a lot of credit to the lovely lighting and decor, too.)
From left to right: Doug Wieselman, Adam Brisbin (behind Doug W.), Stevie Weinstein-Foner, Jolie Holland, and Jared Samuel.
It was the same trio I’d seen at the Bowery Ballroom a couple of weeks ago, with the addition of Doug Wieselman and Jared Samuel. The multi-instrumentalists among them were swapping out instruments from song to song, but altogether they had three electric guitars, an electric bass, a piano, a harmonium, and some small miscellaneous percussion (mostly a tambourine). The major difference from that Bowery Ballroom set was the addition of the electric bass and piano. I thought it was such a treat to have the piano there – she uses it a lot in the studio but it’s tough to incorporate in her usual small touring bands.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to describe how much I loved this show without sounding like a raving fangirl. It was such a unique and special night. The venue was perfect, the sound was great, and I had the best seat in the house. A killer performance of an outstanding setlist filled with some of her best recent songs and some really cool covers to keep things interesting. (Bonus points for the delicately beautiful version of “The House Where Nobody Lives” – one of the best Tom Waits covers I’ve heard. Wish I had a recording!) The band seemed relaxed and comfortable and the audience was one of those pin-drop-quiet respectful ones that only made noise when applauding enthusiastically between songs. The music was beautiful and inspired. The whole night just made me feel so happy… and so lucky to be there.
This is a totally unrelated video of her, and it’s not much like the show I just saw, but you should watch it anyway and listen to her amazing voice and be happy:
And then listen to this one, from her last album, just because it’s my favorite song today: