Thursday, 27 September 2007

I’m positively flying right now — in a good way. I just got back from the 4th Lavay Smith show in 2 days and it was amazing. Some highlights, since I’m hoping a more thorough review will come later:

  • The shows were every bit as wonderful as I expected.
  • Front row seats for all four shows.
  • At Tuesday night’s second show, Brian Setzer was in the audience and did a sang a couple songs with the band.
  • I was able to talk with him a bit after the show and got a picture with him.
  • Tuesday I invited a friend to the second show and they loved it.
  • Wednesday I invited a couple friends and they really loved it.
  • I got my pictures with Lavay and “Cousin” Danny autographed.
  • Chris (piano and band leader), Lavay, and Danny recognized me right off.
  • Lavay talked to me a bit from the stage at several of the shows. (She’s positively gorgeous and an absolute sweetheart!)
  • She asked me to do her a favor during the second show on Wednesday since it was Mark’s (tenor saxophone) birthday. At first I wasn’t able to do it because the kitchen at the club was closed, but the waiter I asked was able to hook me up.
  • I got a song on the set list for the 2nd Tuesday show: “Busy Woman’s Blues”
  • Lavay dedicated a song to me: “Big Fine Daddy” at the 2nd Wednesday show.
  • Chris is a great guy too! I brought my group photo from the Rossi’s show two years ago, go the first couple autographs on it myself, then he ran around and got the rest for me. That was HUGE!
  • Mike Olmos (trumpet) was the first one I caught to sign it. He asked if I could email him a copy. I gave him my spare (I always print two) and a Moo-card and said to send me an email and I’d forward him the digital copy.
  • In among all the other stuff I had to do Wednesday, I was able to pick through my Tuesday photos, make the edits, get a couple prints done, and burned a CD for Lavay. She and Brian Setzer were dancing during one of the songs and I got a great shot so I printed that and gave it to her with the CD, which had the photos from the Tuesday night show† with touch-ups and sized to make 8x10s. She loved it and couldn’t wait to show the dancing photo to her mom.

That’s all for now, but suffice today I walked away with a giant grin on my face and a bounce in my step that will last for a week.

† I told Lavay that they were welcome to use the photos any way they wanted (and included the same info in a readme file on the CD). Promo photos, Web site, posters, whatever. All I requested was a photo credit, nothing more.

Sunday, 25 September 2005

Another busy concert weekend, too busy. Several bands I really wanted to see came to the Twin Cities and I had to choose carefully.

Friday night was easy, that was Greazy Meal at the Fine Line. Tuesday would be Cirque du Soleil with Michelle. Saturday turned out to be a problem. Three of my favorite acts, Sigur Ros, Kaki King, and Lavay Smith, all had shows the same night. They were playing the State Theater, the Cedar Cultural Center, and Rossi’s Blue Star Room respectively.

As far as clubs go the Cedar is somewhat lacking, but The State Theater ain’t too shabby. Throw Rossi’s into the mix, and the small, intimate jazz club wins easily. I think it would be nearly impossible to have a bad show there.

I saw Lavay fairly recently, back in June when I was in San Francisco. Kaki had been here in March, but played a very short set. It’s been over a year since I saw Sigur Ros.

In my head I knew that I’d enjoy myself regardless of which show I ultimately chose, but that really didn’t make it any easier.

Lavay would be back in the area come November and Kaki was playing in Duluth a couple days later, so Sigur Ros seemed the way to go. Unfortunately, when it came time to buy tickets, I could only find nosebleed seats. Delighted, my attention turned back to the Lavay Smith show. I figured I’d see Greazy Meal on Friday, Lavay on Saturday, hit Duluth to catch Kaki King on Monday, then drive back Tuesday to see Cirque. If I didn’t collapse from exhaustion, I’d be back to work on Wednesday.

When it came down to concert night, there was no way to make the Duluth plan happen. But I still had Lavay, so everything would be OK.

When I had made my reservation I asked for something in the 2nd row of tables. They didn’t tell me of any problems at the time, so I figured it would be no big deal. Unfortunately, when I got to the club they gave me a table basically just inside the door. The sight lines were still pretty good, but it was a let down after sitting up front in San Francisco. A quick conversation (and perhaps some begging) with the hostess didn’t pay off. She wanted to help but there wasn’t much she could do until after the main dinner seating. She promised to keep me in mind and see what could be done.

20 minutes later, the hostess kept her promise and I was rewarded. My new seat was much better: Right. Up. Front.

As with the San Francisco show, the band did a two song warm-up. They started with Illinois Jacquet’s “Symphony In Sid” and “Tickle Toe” by Count Basie. After that, Lavay came out and did “Busy Woman’s Blues,” “Daddy,” “Kansas City Boogie,” “Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” “Big Fine Daddy,” “‘Deed I Do,” “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?,” and “Walk Right, In Walk Right Out.”

Between sets I got a chance to talk with a few people in the band. First was Lavay herself. She didn’t know why, but my face was vaguely familiar. When I explained that I had flown 1500 miles to see her show back in June, she lit up. I added that she had been kind enough to sign both of my CDs, but I was star-struck. I completely forgot to ask for a picture with her. She said “that’s the sweetest thing!” and gladly helped me correct the error.

Next I ran into the piano player/band-leader. He recognized me right off, but just that it was from a previous show. Again with the 1500 mile story and I asked when the new album was due. “December, maybe January depending upon packaging. It’s mixed and ready to go, but there are a couple details to work out.” I don’t want to wait that long!

Finally I caught the trombone player, Danny Armstrong. In June I had made a point of introducing myself simply because we have the same last name. Hey, it was a good opening. He made my night when he took one look at me and said “Cuz?” something we had joked about in June.

After the break, it was another two song warm-up: “Dizzy Atmosphere” and I think one called “Doolittle.” I missed the title of Lavay’s first song, but it was a Billie Holiday number. Then came “Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans, ” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do for You,” “Evil Gal Blues,” “Happy Birthday” for two people in the audience, “Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Miss Thing,” “”On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Jumpin’ In the Mornin’,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Through the whole show I was grinning like a fool, clapping and singing along, totally into it. Along the way I realized something. Even though I listen to tons of music and enjoy a wide variety of stuff, most of it failed to excite me any more. But Lavay and the boys truly brought joy, no exuberance, into my life. They are the first band in a very long time that has done that for me.

Afterwards I talked to Danny again and caught Chris to thank them for a great show. Chatting a bit longer I asked, “What are the odds I could get a picture with the whole band?” To my surprise Chris said it shouldn’t be a problem if I can wait around for a while.

That’s how I found myself hanging out with the band after most everyone else had gone. I got to talk with most of the guys as regular people. I know they’re just like the rest of us, but when it’s a person or group you really admire, there’s still something exclusive about it. I don’t usually get a chance at this kind of thing, so it was oh so cool!

Eventually a couple of the guys decided to call it a night. I caught Chris again to say goodnight so he wouldn’t run around looking for me later. Before I could tell him not to worry about it he hollered “Hey! Michael, the guy in the hat here, wants to get a picture with the band.” 60 seconds later everyone had gathered and one of the two remaining patrons snapped the picture.

I didn’t sleep at all that night I was so charged up. Their November show is the same night that G. Love plays First Avenue. I didn’t know what to do before, but now I know exactly where I’ll be: at Rossi’s to see Lavay Smith again.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Lavay Smith looks like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page. And when she sings…it’s as if Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Bessie Smith are all rolled up into one. Pure heaven! She is one of my favorite artists these days, if not the favorite.

Is it any wonder that, when I flew to San Francisco to visit my good friend Jules, there was only one thing on my “can’t miss” list? Hell, I picked the specific weekend entirely to see Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers play live.

The show was at a place called Biscuits & Blues. It was just a couple blocks from my hotel, although I’ll admit it wasn’t entirely by accident. I had stayed at The Savoy Hotel about 10 years prior and loved it. That it was so close to the club was an added bonus.

Biscuits & Blues offers a full dinner menu upstairs and nightly shows in the club downstairs with a limited menu selection. Wanting to make a night of it, our dinner reservations were at 2030 and I reserved tickets for the 2230 show. The plan was to have a leisurely dinner (review forthcoming) and be able to enjoy the show without distractions.

Holding little more than 100 people, the club is located in the basement. Lit primarily by candles, the low ceiling, exposed pipes and proximity of the tables and the stage give the space an intimate feel and just the slightest 1920’s speakeasy vibe. It turned out to be the perfect setting for the show that was to come.

Dinner had taken a little longer than expected, but we got lucky and were seated very near the front just as the band took the stage. The sight lines were fantastic with only one table and a small dance floor between us and the stage. As small as this place was, I don’t think there could have been a bad seat in the house.

There wasn’t an opening act so much as a two-song warm-up by The Red Hot Skillet Lickers; a sextet featuring piano, string bass, alto and tenor saxophone, trumpet and trombone. They were tight and played off each other rather well, starting with a Ray Charles tune and another up-beat number. Both songs showcased the band’s talents and got the joint jumpin’.

Then Lavay Smith took the stage and I could barely contain myself. Right then I knew it would live up to my expectations. As it happens, we were standing right next to her as we entered the club and I hadn’t even realized it.

For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, the couple in front of us left after Smith’s first song. The waitress asked if we’d like to move up front. Umm…HELL YEAH! I had flown over 1000 miles with only two things in mind: visit Jules and see this show. There was no way I would pass up a front-row seat.

My biggest worry was that Jules wouldn’t like the show. I know she likes Blues music, but what I’ve heard her talk about the most is Johnny Lang, while Lavay Smith is a bit different. As excited as I was to finally see Smith play live, I would have been totally bummed if Jules hated it. Luckily, my fears were unfounded and she had a good time.

Through the 90 minute set she did a couple songs from her forthcoming CD that “should be out in time for Christmas,” plus several songs from each of her first two releases.

I wish I could remember the whole set-list, but there’s just no chance. I do recall that she did most of my favorites, including “Blue Skies” and “Walk Right In” (from One Hour Mama) plus the torchy “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?,” sassy “I Want A Little Boy” and the title track from Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Miss Thing!

Afterwards, Ms. Smith came out and signed autographs. There’s no doubt I came across as a gushing fan-boy, but we got a chance to talk for a couple minutes. She was gracious and signed both of my CDs. Lavay mentioned that they’d be coming to the Twin Cities in September and November. While I already knew about November shows in Rochester and Fairmont, Minneapolis wasn’t on the list as of when I left.

Ironically, after having made special effort to bring my camera, I was so enamored that I completely spaced it. How cool would it have been to score a couple pictures with Lavay, let alone pictures during the show? Boy, did I blow that one.

Still, I had started the evening with a huge grin and afterward…you practically had to scrape me off the ceiling. You can bet I’ll see her again when she comes to town. If the Minneapolis gigs are true, I’ll be there! If they don’t happen and it means a road trip to Rochester, I’ll happily do that.

I won’t forget pictures either.