Gig Review: June 25, 2010

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More power! MORE POWER!

It is incredible how much volume you need to sound decent in an open air venue, especially for the bass guitar. When I tuned up and started to warm up, Greg motioned for me to turn up. I stepped on the volume pedal. He motioned again. I increased the master volume on the amplifier. He motioned AGAIN! My eyes got wide. “Really?!?” He nodded in the affirmative. Wow. I could feel the bass rumbling the stage below my feet. It was so loud I could see the notes I was playing.

Nevertheless, the sound off the stage was right. (Check the video.)

This gig was about as perfect as an outdoor gig as possible. It was warm with an occasional cool breeze. Our backdrop was the water and the setting sun. Cue sunset. Start with Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

Here are some pictures from the show:

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

Gig Review: April 17, 2010

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One of the major challenges of a seven piece band is fitting on a stage. There are seven bodies, drum set, keyboards, microphone stands, pedalboards, amplifiers, music stands, etc… The New Yorker, while a nice place, has a relatively small stage. Granted, it is an actual stage. Usually, we have a cordoned off area in a section of the club, this was an honest-to-goodness raised stage, complete with back door and parking lot for loading (sweet). The acoustics of the place were good, not particularly bouncy, bassy, or tinny.

On this particular evening, we were being filmed. The video will soon be appearing on the Ricky Blues website. Below are some pictures of the evening.

Created with flickr slideshow.

When playing rock n’ roll, musicians prefer a slightly raucous crowd. People that are singing along, jumping up and down, and crowding closer to the stage are the best. The worst are the people that grab the microphone to sing along, jump up and down on guitar pedals, and crowd too close to the stage bumping members of the band. No one wants to deal with that guy.

The New Yorker was neither. I am not implying that the crowd was not appreciative. They clapped, sang along occasionally, but literally and figuratively maintained their distance.

I understand their hesitance at first. There were video cameras, cameramen, and umbrella lights set up in the first half of the club. No one wants to bump into someones expensive equipment, knock over a light, or interfere with the filming. I appreciate their caution and concern.

The equipment was gone after the first set, but by that point the gulf had been established, and we could not reclaim that ground.

I recall someone writing (I think it was Robert Fripp) that a performance should have three parts.

  1. Hook the crowd.
  2. Take them someplace interesting.
  3. Bring them back.

I think every performing musician knows the first one, but what may not be understood is that there may be impediments to that beyond his control. They can vary. Perhaps there is a playoff game on the bar’s television. Maybe there are two scantily clad women dancing on the bar (even you’re probably watching that one instead of concentrating on your playing). There are any number of unforeseen reasons.

What to do? Try to get the crowd involved at your earliest opportunity. Try to get them engaged. Though you may try this, despite your best efforts, you may not grab them. Hooking the crowd is like a first impression, most times you only get one chance.

Renaud Garcia-Fons @ Joe’s Pub March 23, 2010

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The greatest live music performance I ever saw was King Crimson at The Supper Club in New York on November 13, 2000. It was a combination of virtuosity, power, energy, and inventiveness that I have never seen matched. Tuesday’s show came close.

Renaud Garcia-Fons is one of those musicians that I would never have discovered without the internet. On a bass-related bulletin board, there was a thread that mentioned him with an embedded youtube clip, Berimbass. (Take a minute and check it out.)

I am an electric bass player. I have fiddled with the double bass and have a small working knowledge of how to play the instrument. I am sure you can tell, even if you have no musical knowledge, acoustic bass or otherwise, that what he is doing is something very special. You can see how fluid he is moving from plucking to bow and you can recognize the effortlessness with which he solos. That video, impressive as it may be, only begins to scratch the surface.

Joe’s Pub was the perfect venue for his New York debut. Despite the sound and feel of the subway running underneath, it is the perfect mix of bar and concert hall. Small enough to feel intimate, but large enough to let the sound move about in the air, it was a wonderful place to experience what he and his Arcoluz trio had to present.

Renaud was on the five string upright. Kiko Ruiz was on the acoustic guitar (described by Renaud as “flamenco guitar”), and Pascal Rollando on percussion. The percussion setup was great. Pascal sat on the cajón, alternating playing it with brush and then with his hands. He had two shakers on foot pedals, two bongos, a djembe, an udu, and various other stuff. The sound they created cannot be properly captured on CD. Don’t get me wrong, the CD’s are wonderful, I own a few and listen to them with great enjoyment. Nevertheless, their live performance is another animal entirely. Think of the difference between hearing a symphony on CD and sitting in the pit.

They improvised, combined songs, played medleys, took solos… and it was all astounding. Aside from the technical aspect, the songs are rich with style and variation. They combine sounds of flamenco, rock, African music, and classical.

Thankfully, one of my friends and a parent of one of my students came to the show with other friends. They were all equally amazed.

One of the things I enjoy, though I’m not sure if I enjoy it as a musician or just as a person, is introducing someone to something new. A few people got to experience this incredible performance with me and they can hold onto it as a unique experience. It cannot be replicated. It is the group’s first NY performance. It is the first time we are seeing them live. It is a moment in time that can never happen again. I’m very glad that I was there.

Additional Links:
Renaud Garcia-Fons homepage
Joe’s Pub website

NYT Review of King Crimson at the Supper Club

Gig Review: February 12, 2010

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Johnny’s had us back. Once again, the folks there were very nice to us. The place was packed early. Generally, we will start to a good crowd and more people will trickle in as time continues. However, this time, the place was jam packed from the beginning.

We opened with our Pink Floyd set. DAMN! The set lasted almost two hours! That’s alotta Floyd. Nevertheless, it went over gangbusters with people clamoring for more. My bandmates and I were exhausted… and we still had another set to play.

Halfway through the second set, my right arm started to go numb. At the time I was surprised, but looking back, I was in my fourth hour of the gig and around the third hour of playing. That would also explain why I kept shifting my weight from foot to foot. I wear sneakers live for this gig, but even their soft cushion was starting to wear down. Needless to say, I was drained by the time we finished.

It’s a wonderful thing to enjoy what you do for a living. It is also a testament to the people I play with and the material we play that I did not notice the time until the entire evening was complete.

Here are some photos from the marathon:

Created with flickr slideshow.

“Do you really need three basses?” was the question for the evening. Yep. The fretted five string I my main instrument for the night. The fretless is necessary for Hey You and On The Turning Away. I like the sound of the hollowbody on Another Brick In The Wall and Money. So… I could get away with two, but it is my job to ensure I bring the best possible sound I can to each gig, so if it means bringing one more piece of equipment, I’ll make it happen.

Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca @ The Lucille Lortel Theatre December 31, 2009

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Another New Year’s Eve, another New Year’s Eve show.

Last year, my girlfriend and I went to Blue Man Group for New Year’s Eve at the Astor Place Theatre. I would highly recommend the show to anyone regardless of time of year, but NYE was especially nice. While many places gouge you on ticket prices because of the date, BMG only charged a few more dollars for the later show which went right up until midnight. At that point, they handed out complimentary champagne, sang Auld Lang Syne, and closed out the show. It was a wonderful way to ring in the year.

This year, we took in a show we had seen before, Soldedad Barrio and Noche Flamenca. Once again, they put on a marvelous performance. The Lucille Lortel Theatre is located on Christopher Street and is a very comfortable sized room for this show. Granted, we were in the center in the second row. We would feel each step as the vibration ran up our legs.

When one dancer spun, and the sweat flew from his head and hair, my girlfriend whispered to me, “So that’s why you chose the second row.” Not that any sweat hit anyone in the first row, but I did not want to be the exception.

The show was wonderful. If you know nothing about flamenco or dance, it does not matter. Just go. It’s a wonderful experience.

The costumes were different for this show as the first piece in particular was dedicated to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The cuts of the men’s suits was three piece traditional. The women’s outfits were not as colorful as the last performance, more like funeral garb.

More than last show, solos from each dancer were featured. Instead of solos within group pieces, three of the principal dancers would dance solo with at least one cantor and guitarist. When viewing a solo apart from a group piece, I got a better feel for each dancers’ style, their preferences in rhythm, how they utilized pauses and silences, and what they enjoy doing while in the spotlight (whether it be claps, jumps, spins, or flourishes of the arms).

Again, if you have the chance, try to see them when they come around. After a second show I can safely say that my good experience was not an aberration.

Additional Links:
Noche Flamenca in the Daily News
Review in Financial Times
Noche Flamenca in Facebook