Review(s): My weekend of unrelated music featuring Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Tim Berne & HONK! NYC

After being sick last week, I was really in the mood to get out and see some shows this past weekend. I was in luck, because there was a lot of good stuff on the concert calendar. (Did you notice I added an NYC concert calendar to the sidebar? I did. It’s sort of in beta testing right now, but check it out if you’re in the area and let me know what you think.)

First up on Saturday night was the duo of Chris Thile (mandolin, guitar) and Edgar Meyer (upright bass, piano) at Town Hall. I’ve repeatedly had bad luck getting good seats for shows at Town Hall, but this time my ticket karma came through. The show had gone on sale months before I moved to NYC and I’d long ago given up hope of getting any kind of decent seat. But I kept checking back just in case… and about a week before the show: front row dead center popped up on Ticketmaster. Yes, please, and thank you!

I didn’t even really know what kind of music they’d be playing – I was so busy this summer I’m behind on listening to absolutely everything, and I was mostly just going on my friend Mark’s recommendation to see them. I’ve seen Chris Thile a few times before, but was new to the work of Edgar Meyer. Thile is a virtuoso and you can generally expect him to do amazing things, but I was really blown away by Meyer’s bass playing. Holy cow, can that man handle an upright bass! I’ve seen a lot of concerts, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bassist play like that. I found myself watching him almost the whole time. I’m skipping the videos I took myself and giving you something professionally recorded since the audio quality is so key with these two:

They are at the tail end of their U.S. tour, but there are two more dates this week in Ann Arbor and Chicago. Click here for details on the tour and their new album.

Sunday night was a totally different scene: the last night of saxophonist Tim Berne’s residency at the Stone. I’d wanted to catch a couple of nights but wasn’t feeling up to it until the weekend, when he was playing with two different (but similar) bands. The early set was “Decay,” with Tim Berne on sax, Ryan Ferreira on electric guitar, Michael Formanek on upright bass and Ches Smith on drums (because, clearly, I didn’t hear enough of his drumming during his own residency the week before!). The late set was “Cornered,” with those four plus Oscar Noriega on clarinet and Matt Mitchell on piano. These bands were fairly similar to his (relatively) well-known band, Snakeoil, which had played for several nights in a row earlier in the week.
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Concert(s) review: HONK! Festival 2013

Technically the HONK! festival is only about half over, but I’ve worn myself out so much this week I don’t really see myself being able to attend any more of it (well, maybe the parade…). So: I will take this time to write and share videos and such.

The HONK! festival is an annual festival in Somerville, Massachusetts, bringing together activist street bands from across the world (although for cost reasons most of them are from the U.S., I did see both European and South American bands this weekend). From the “What is HONK!” page on their website…

Across the country and around the world, a new type of street band is emerging. Acoustic and mobile, borrowing repertoire and inspiration from a diverse set of folk music traditions – New Orleans second line brass bands, European Klezmer, Balkan and Romani music, Brazilian Afro Bloc and Frevo traditions, as well as the passion and spirit of Mardi Gras and Carnival– these “honkers” all share a commitment to several core principles. Metaphorically speaking, they honk their horns for the same reasons motorists honk theirs: to arouse fellow travelers, to warn of danger, to celebrate milestones, and to just plain have fun.

First and foremost, they honk their horns – or beat their drums, or wave their flags – to enliven and embolden their audience. Members vary widely in age, class, ethnicity and background, and although they often wear some kind of uniform, there is also always an emphasis on individuality and a “DIY” (do-it-yourself) sensibility to their instrumentation and attire. These bands play music that is truly of, by, and for “the people.” The distinction between performer and audience, just like the distinctions between different musical genres, is just one more arbitrary social boundary they aspire to overcome.

The result of all this as far as the audience goes is that we have a four-day entirely-free festival full of the craziest, most fun brass and marching bands that you’ll ever see in one place. Since Thursday I’ve seen nine bands plus a jam session, and my favorite band so far was Os Siderais from Brazil (so good I had to see them twice!):

That video was from Thursday night’s pre-HONK! kick-off concert, held in front of Precinct Bar in Union Square in Somerville (a nearly-convenient walk from where I live, so it was a no-brainer to attend). They were actually borrowing some (more…)