A pair of musical surprises: Jolie Holland at Bar LunÀtico & Dresden Dolls at Rough Trade

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.
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The most egregious collection of catching-up mini-reviews the world has ever seen! Featuring such luminaries as Goblin, Secret Chiefs 3, the Dresden Dolls, Bill Frisell, Jason Webley, Chris Thile, and more.

So… in the last 5-6 weeks, I’ve seen 29 concerts (and spent 17 nights away from home doing so). I managed to review 21 of them, which is respectable – but it still leaves me pretty far behind. Some of the shows were particularly good (and there is some good video footage) so I didn’t want to leave them completely unblogged, but I really can’t remember them all well enough at this point to write full reviews. So: to the mini-reviews! I present them to you in chronological order.

Sept 20, 2013. Bill Frisell, Sam Amidon, Jason Moran, Alicia Hall Moran: The show was entitled “Gershwin & Beyond” and was part of the Frisell-curated “Roots of Americana” series at Lincoln Center. The concert was in the absolutely beautiful Allen Room (it’s hard to imagine a prettier place to see a show, for my tastes) and I had a front-row seat. Perfect, right? It was the first concert in my 10-day trip to NYC for Zorn@60, and unfortunately it was a poor match for my mood: I was EXTREMELY EXCITED about that week, I’d been looking forward to it and making plans for months, but the concert was almost universally downtempo and often sad music – I had a hard time switching gears. There were a few very pretty songs, though. I remember really liking “Shenandoah,” sung by Alicia Hall Moran. I unfortunately deleted, by accident, a bunch of videos and photos from that show. (Sorry…)

Sept 24, 2013. The Tri-Centric Orchestra: This event was at Roulette in Brooklyn, on the Tuesday night during our Zorn@60 week when John Zorn apparently decided to take a night off. I like Roulette a lot, but don’t get to go there very often. I was attracted to the show by the orchestra lineup, including 30 or 40 musicians and vocalists – lots of names were familiar to me (Taylor Ho Bynum, Jessica Pavone, Marika Hughes, Ken Filiano, Nate Wooley, Curtis Hasselbring, etc.). They performed three new works (by Ingrid Laubrock, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Mark Taylor) as well as premiering an Anthony Braxton piece written in 1973 but never performed, Composition No. 27. This was a fun night of new music and I especially liked the Mark Taylor composition, even though he was the only one of the composers I’d never heard of before. I’ll have to check out some more of his work.

Oct 7, 2013. A Tribute to Rebecca Rosenthal (including the Dresden Dolls, Jason Webley, etc.): This was a concert organized as a fundraiser and memorial/tribute to a local woman, Rebecca Rosenthal aka Becca Darling, who died unexpectedly and far too young. (You might have seen her in Amanda Palmer’s “Oasis” music video – NSFW – or Neil Gaiman’s short film, “Statuesque,” both of which were screened for us during the concert.) There were many performers during the night, including friends and favorite musicians of Rebecca; but the headliners would probably be considered the Dresden Dolls (with Jason Webley as, er, runner-up headliner). I really liked both of their sets, and filmed some of it. See Jason Webley by clicking here and/or watch the Dresden Dolls here:

If you are interested in making a donation to a scholarship in Rebecca Rosenthal’s memory – click here.

Oct 9, 2013. Secret Chiefs 3: The next concert I went to, at the Sinclair in Cambridge, was Secret Chiefs 3 opening for Goblin. (more…)

What’s happening this summer?

My July schedule is a bit strange, I’ve basically got 10 days with almost nothing to do (music-wise) and then there is a huge flood of good stuff happening. I thought since I’ll have no concert reviews for a week I would share a few things that are coming up and maybe help you find something fun to see.

First, I’ll mention that one of my favorite new bands, Zion80, is doing a live streaming webcast from Poland tomorrow, July 4th. 4PM Eastern (1PM Pacific/10PM Europe). According to their Twitter feed, this is the link where you’ll find it: http://t.co/pu9Vm7AUK3 Of course, if you’re in Krakow, you can probably go see them in person (click here for a complete list of tour dates). Some music, if you don’t know them:

Another notable European happening is that one of my very favorite songwriters, Joe Henry, has just announced a couple of shows in August in Dublin and Willisau. He also has one show in July in Los Angeles. He doesn’t tour very often so these shows are pretty special (I read that it’s the first concert he’s ever done in Ireland). I’m not sure if he’s planning on doing any more shows while he’s in Europe, but you can keep an eye on his schedule here. Some music, if you’re not familiar with him:

One of my very favorite musical people in the world, composer/saxophonist John Zorn, is heading off to Europe in July as well; he’s doing a number of marathon concerts (mainly at jazz festivals) in London, Rotterdam, Gent, Warsaw, San Sebastian and Lisbon. Lisbon gets three nights instead of just one, so the Portuguese are extra lucky this time around! In August and September he’ll be heading to Jerusalem and Paris, and throughout the year he is doing fantastic events in New York City. His Facebook events page remains the best place to keep up with events; the Zorn@60 page is really good, but it is a little behind the curve and missing some events that are listed on Facebook. Here is a live cut of the Dreamers, who I think are playing in all of the European concerts:

Local Cantabrigian (more…)

Concert Review: AFPSalon – Amanda Palmer, Cormac Bride, Sarah Borrello (6/4/2013)

As mentioned in my previous post, I was hoping to be lucky enough to win a ticket to the June 4th “Salon” that Amanda Palmer held at Red Star Union here in Cambridge. Well – I was! I found out the morning of the show that I would have a ticket waiting for me at Will Call. It was an exciting show to go to for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was in a teeny tiny venue (capacity ~50); and secondly, it was being broadcast worldwide via webstream. We were essentially the “live studio audience” to make it feel like a real concert. I was impressed with the quality of the crowd – they were both enthusiastic and extremely well behaved. During a four-hour concert with an open bar, having a crowd that is absolutely can-hear-a-pin-drop quiet and respectful for twenty minutes at a time is pretty amazing. I am sure nobody wanted to be “that guy” when we were being watched by thousands of people around the world. 😉

I had never been to Red Star Union before, and it was in quite a strange location. The venue is located in a fancy office building in what is essentially a biotech park, and there’s no obvious signage outside. Very difficult to find if you don’t get really good directions in advance, so be forewarned if you’re going to a show there. Once we actually got in to the venue, you’d never know where you were – it was a cozy little space, with excellent sound and sightlines. They had brought in some full-of-character furniture from home to make it into more of a homey atmosphere.

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(That’s Anthony Martignetti and Amanda Palmer during one of the discussion segments.)

Amanda explained to us that (more…)

Performer spotlight: Amanda F. Palmer

So: I find myself once again without any concerts to review for a couple of weeks, and therefore I’m writing about someone I’m hoping to see next week instead of a band I’ve already seen. Amanda Palmer! She is playing a tiny show right in my neighborhood and I’m hoping to win tickets (wish me luck!). It’s such a small venue that they are not selling tickets, but giving them away to a few lucky people.

The cool part, and the reason I’m writing about it in advance, is that it’s going to be streamed live on the internet, and we can all see the show whether or not we get tickets. Save the date: June 4, 7PM EST, at Red Star Union. There will also be a number of guest artists doing music and readings, including her husband Neil Gaiman, who happens to be one of my favorite authors ever since I stumbled across a copy of Good Omens back in the 90s. I think it’s going to be a really fun night.

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If you’re a fan of AFP, you’re already writing this on your calendar. If you aren’t familiar with her music, read on! (I realize there’s a third option, but I guess they’ve already stopped reading.)

The first time I saw AFP was about three years ago, after a friend of mine (hi Lisa!) told me I should check out the Evelyn Evelyn concert at a local venue I really like. It wasn’t expensive, so I figured I would give it a shot in spite of knowing nothing about it aside from reading a brief blurb on the website (which didn’t give anything away). I may be the only person in the entire world that (more…)