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…)