Concert review: Joe Henry in Ghent (6/10/2014)

Concert Manic’s most famous Belgian correspondent, Bjorn Weynants, is back with another excellent guest post! Many of my music-loving European friends have been catching shows on Joe Henry’s current tour, and their reports are making me really look forward to seeing his concert here in Boston in a few weeks. Have a listen to one of the songs from his brand-new album, Invisible Hour, while you read. – Sarah V.

Joe Henry is the not the kind of artist who tours regularly. The fact that he planned a massive European tour (at least massive to Joe Henry’s norms: only 12 dates, from Sevilla in the south of Spain to Bergen in Norway) with a stop in Ghent, Belgium is big news for his fans. His last Belgian concert was in 2007 (in the same venue as tonight’s show), as his Brussels gig two years ago was suddenly cancelled for undisclosed reasons.

The Handelsbeurs is a beautifully converted 19th century Trade Hall building in the centre of Ghent, which has been used for concerts for the past 10 years or so. (They have a rather Concertmanic-friendly programming as e.g. Ceramic Dog played here last April.) For this concert chairs were put around tables, giving the concert hall the feel of some kind of smoke-filled New York jazz club in the fifties. An ideal setting for a Joe Henry concert.

Joe Henry just released his 13th solo album, the excellent Invisible Hour. Just like his previous albums, it’s one that only discloses its full beauty after repeated listens. Add to that way-better-than-average lyrics and the result is that this is an album which will score very high on end-of-year lists (or at least it will on mine). Unfortunately, this is the kind of music that you won’t hear on the radio, as his music sits somewhere in the no-man’s land between folk, blues and jazz. And that’s a place not a lot of people (let alone your average radio DJ) venture into. While he is one of the great singer-songwriters of the last twenty years (and a great producer as well), the best known fact about him is that he’s the brother-in-law of (more…)

Concert review: A Far Cry w/special guest Phyllis Chen (4/17/2014)

Meta-blog notes: I have pretty much been living in Crazy Town (Insaniville? Madbridge?) for the last month – as a result, not a lot of shows attended and even fewer blogs written. Life has stabilized but still involves a lot of overtime and extra doctor’s appointments, so I’m not sure when my output will pick up again. I do have tickets to a lot of great music events in May and June (Nick Cave, Marc Ribot’s birthday week of concerts, Joe Henry, another Deadly Gentlemen’s Ball, The Tempest featuring the music of Tom Waits, etc.) so there will definitely be some fun blogs even if I don’t cover as many smaller shows as I usually do.

I had such a busy week that I almost forgot that I had a ticket to this concert – luckily I did remember in time, even if I only got there five minutes before showtime! And even luckier, there was a single seat available in the front row right where I was hoping to sit, with a great view of the piano. A Schoenhut, because of course you have to have the best!


Yes, it’s a children’s toy piano. And yes, this was a serious classical concert. That’s just how we roll in contemporary music. Phyllis Chen, the only renowned toy pianist I’ve personally ever heard of, was a special guest and soloist – she performed three of her own pieces with A Far Cry, which is an 18-piece string ensemble based here in Boston. In addition to the toy piano, she played on (more…)

Concert review: Chris Eldridge & Julian Lage (4/8/2014)

Sometimes you see a show that’s not just really good, but it really hits the spot: maybe it’s the relaxing show when you’re all wound up, or the difficult music when you’re feeling up for a challenge, or maybe it’s the Cubanos Postizos when I have a back spasm (…you’ll just have to trust me on that one). Whatever the case may be, tonight was one of those shows. I had a bizarre and sudden illness last week that had me ending up in Urgent Care with a prescription for some heavy-duty meds, leading to a long weekend spent in bed and missing no less than three concerts I was really looking forward to. Thankfully, I was able to get myself back in shape for tonight’s show, a guitar and vocal duo of Chris “Critter” Eldridge and Julian Lage at Passim in Cambridge. It turned out to be exactly the sort of fun, relaxed, easy-to-enjoy yet still top-notch-quality music that my slightly pathetic self desperately needed to hear. New and interesting enough to capture my attention completely, but familiar enough to be comfortable. Perhaps you’d like to listen to a piece from their new EP while you read? Check it out:

I’d seen the duo play a short set in January at the Deadly Gentlemen’s Ball, so I had a good idea of what to expect: serious technical mastery of the guitar, and some (more…)

Concert review: Pete Seeger tribute night (3/30/2014)

Last night I went to the Pete Seeger tribute night (which was also a benefit concert for Clearwater) at Passim in Cambridge. I hope everyone who reads my blog is already familiar with Seeger’s work – he was incredibly influential in the realm of music and political activism. Just about every story I hear about him makes me respect him just a little bit more. If you’re not familiar with him, do yourself a favor and look into his incredible legacy, which spans from WWII to the Occupy movement.

I bought a ticket to the tribute concert on a whim before they’d posted any performer’s names, so the whole concert was pretty much a mystery to me. It ended up consisting of eight acts that I’d never heard of before: Laura Cortese, Billy Wylder, Alastair Moock, Scott Alarik, Ryan Alvanos, Catie Curtis, Audrey Ryan, and Lloyd Thayer. I really and truly had no idea what to expect other than a vague assumption that it would be folky and involve Pete Seeger’s music. In the end I was very pleasantly surprised at the high quality of music across the board.

The first two acts turned out to be my favorites of the night: Laura Cortese and Billy Wylder. Laura started us off with a beautiful Seeger singalong (“This Little Light of Mine,” if I’m remembering correctly) and then performed one of her own songs, “Heel to Toe,” which was a pop-bluegrass number. She is a talented performer with a really lovely voice, and started off the night on a very positive note. Here’s a video of her performing “Heel to Toe”:

Billy Wylder (a band, not a person) was the second act, and they were (more…)

Concert review: John Zorn’s Masada Book Three: Book of Beriah – part two (3/19/2014)

(If you missed the first half of this review, you can find it by clicking here!)

After stretching our legs during the 15-minute intermission, I settled back in my seat for the next ten bands. Well, I say “my” seat, but technically I was sitting in someone else’s seat, because my friend M. tipped me off to a no-show empty seat, front row dead center. Yeah, I’ll take advantage of that, thank you! It was a very nice change of pace seeing everything except the keyboards, instead of nothing but the keyboards.

The first band in the second set that really wowed me was the trio of Loren Sklamberg (vocals, accordion), Frank London (trumpet) and Uri Caine (piano). Out of all the bands we heard that night, this one had the most klezmer at its heart. (This seems relevant as the Book of Beriah concert was part of the Newish Jewish Music Festival.) Frank London gave us a bit of an explanation before the beginning of the piece, saying the name of the piece, “Kelim,” which is “part of the kabbalistic-mystic concept of how the world was created” inspired them to use this particular text, which I think he said was Yiddish. Even without being able to understand the lyrics, I thought the piece was hauntingly beautiful with a very Old World feel. Really loved London’s trumpet on this piece.

Next up was Abraxas, a band that regular readers of my blog will be familiar with. Shanir Blumenkranz is the bandleader and gimbri player, accompanied by Kenny Grohowski on drums, and two electric guitar players: Aram Bajakian and Eyal Maoz. While the band was setting up and getting plugged in, some joker in the audience yelled out “What IS that thing?” This prompted John Zorn to grab the mic and retort, “A gimbri, you fool!” which got a laugh out of the audience. I especially liked the intro to their piece which had some really cool atmospheric guitar work over a melodic bass line (well, gimbri line).

mark-abraxas(Abraxas. Photo courtesy of Mark Kirschbaum.)

After Abraxas, we got to hear Mephisto – which (as Zorn explained) is usually called “Mephista,” but apparently the substitution of a male drummer (Jim Black) made them decide to alter the (more…)