Monday, 23 June 2008

Even though I may not totally agree with his politics, I’ve been a fan of Billy Bragg for many years. His songs are strong mix of punk, worker’s ballads, and the world at large that just have this certain appeal to me. Bragg played The Cedar a couple weeks ago and I took my friend Sherry to the show.

It was actually a pretty busy week: Association meeting on Tuesday, drinks with friends on Wednesday, Aimee Mann at the Zoo with Sherry on Thursday, Billy Bragg at The Cedar on Friday, then Stomp! at the Ordway on Saturday.

In the couple-dozen shows I’ve seen at The Cedar, this has been only the third where there were no chairs.

The first was Hoven Droven, a Celtic punk band at the Nordic Roots festival a couple years ago. The show started with chairs, but as the band got going people got up to dance. At first the chairs were (gently) shoved away from the stage, then quickly a bunch of people helped to stack them and put the chairs away properly. In under 5 minutes the floor was clear.

The second show was Konono No. 1, a percussion and thumb piano band from Africa. (Boy was that show loud!) They started the evening without the chairs so people could dance. The crowd really got hopping in sync with itself and you’d see this mass of heads bobbing into the air and back down again.

And then the Billy Bragg show. It was billed as limited seating, but I was surprised to find no chairs at all. I figured it meant the normal seating arrangement, but that there were more tickets than seats. I wouldn’t call Bragg’s music danceable – indeed, nobody really moved that much the entire show. However, the concert was sold out. With chairs The Cedar holds about 300 people but they must have sold 600+ tickets for this show. Standing room only in the truest sense.

The opening act was a guy named C. R. Avery. He did this beat-box, hip-hop, spoken word thing that was just great. I had to buy his two CDs after the show. If you’ve ever heard Kid Beyond before you’ve got the general idea, but with a bit more focus on the words than the beats and the looping.

Billy came out and it was just him and a couple guitars. One electric and one acoustic. He did several songs from the his latest album, Mr. Love and Justice, with a healthy dose of old stuff interspersed. I got to hear most of my favorites, including “Sexuality” and “The Space Race Is Over.” It was a really good show.

At one point, switching back from acoustic to electric, Bragg made a remark about amplification and apologized that I was getting the brunt of it standing there straight in front of his main stage amp. I just smiled, pointed to my ear plugs, and told him it was no sweat; I was getting a great show and couldn’t have picked a better spot about 6 feet off center right against the stage.

After the show he came out and signed autographs. He took the time to talk with everyone in line and come my turn he apologized again for the amplifier placement. I said he shouldn’t apologize, I knew what I was getting into by standing there. I have earplugs and could still hear every word, it just took the edge off. Sherry had helped me grab the set list from the stage, which he gladly signed and tried to point out the one or two spots where songs got added.

Then I asked him to autograph a couple CDs I had brought with me. As I handed them to him, I remarked that they were two of the old ones (not the oldest, but William Bloke and England, Half-English.) He started signing them, and asked “Who are they?” Confused, I looked and realized what had happened. He had written “To the Old Ones, “ and signed the first one.

Unable to make something up on the spot, I explained that I had said “Two of the old ones,” figuring he would just sign them and be done with it. Completely embarrassed, Billy remarked that after a show there is often no brain filtering information between ears and hands, so he’ll often just write whatever someone says because he’s talking with them at the same he signs stuff. “I’m just as likely to write ‘To the git that makes a terrible cup of coffee’ if someone said at the right time.” We all started riffing on “To the Old Ones” a bit, including my friend Kathy who was next in line, and eventually someone (I think it was Kathy) said “To the Young Ones.” The Young Ones was a British sit-com that played on MTV for a while here in the US. A bit more joking around and that’s what the second CD now says: “To the Young Ones, Billy Bragg.”

It was time to go, but I got a picture with Billy and he apologized again for the autograph mixup. I said it was no trouble at all. In fact it was great! Usually it’s just a signature, or “To Michael” at most – as if anyone would be fooled into thinking Billy and I were drinking buddies. These two CDs, “To the Old Ones” and “To the Young Ones” are now truly special. Not only do they have some good music on them, but I have a story to go with them.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

OK, so here’s the deal: I won tickets to the recent Barry Manilow show in the Twin Cities.

No kidding.

I was at my dad’s place for Christmas and he had the radio tuned for a local adult-contemporary station. (Hey, not my choice, but not my radio either.) They were doing a Songs of the 70’s thing, heavy on the disco and easy-listening classics of the decade. I didn’t catch the prize at first, but they had a trivia thing and the question was “What kind of car did Dantanna drive in the 70’s TV series Vegas?” After a quick discussion with the room at large, I casually called the radio station and actually got through.

The DJ repeated the question and I gave her the answer and I won! Actually, she gave me a second chance on the color because I had everything else spot-on (It was a red Thunderbird convertible, by the way.)

I’m not usually the winner. I don’t win the lottery, I can’t guess the number of jelly beans in the jar, and I’m never caller #10. Yet here I was, the proud owner of two Barry Manilow tickets. I didn’t even know when or where the concert was, I had to look it up.

I’m known among my people for having varied musical tastes and I’ll listen to nearly anything. I’m not big on modern rap or country and I know precious little about classical or Jazz, but I usually peg Manilow as an easy-listening artist. Let’s just say that easy-listening normally come somewhere further down the list. Somewhere above new age (rhymes with sewage) but below heavy metal.

Somehow I felt compelled to go. After all, everyone can name at least three Barry Manilow songs off the top of their head and in addition to his own recordings he’s written tons for other bands. Plus he’s known to be quite the showman. While I might not appreciate it as much as other people, the concert was not going to suck. Heck it’s possible I might even enjoy it.

The show was at Xcel Energy Center (some time I should share my thoughts about corporate sponsored venues) and the tickets were pretty decent. Not on the main floor, but 12th row about half-way back from the stage. The place is usually a hockey arena, so if front edge of the stage was about 20 feet in front of the goal, my seats were about even with the far blue-line. They turned out to be great sight-lines.

I had to invoke some Google-Fu to remember the name of the opening act, Brian Culbertson. With 33-year old Brian on keyboard and trombone, his dad on trumpet, plus a drummer, guitarist, bass player, and another guy on keyboards; he’s described as a Smooth Jazz act. Ugh. Smooth Jazz. As it turns out they weren’t bad, but pretty unremarkable; which is my complaint about most Smooth Jazz. Think Kenny G crossed with John Tesh, but somewhat less somnolent. Their last tune was a kind of funk number that was pretty good.

Then it was Barry-Time.

This tour was called Music and Passion, the premise being music through the decades, 40’s on forward, with stories from his life and plenty of his own songs interspersed throughout. He had an 11 piece orchestra, plus guitar, bass, drums, percussion, backup singers, keyboard, and his own piano. The light rig was huge, with at least 4 arms jutting out 30 feet over the audience, three video screens, and a pair of LED curtains that they could change colors and display patterns on. Even the stage was something else. It had a multi-tier band riser that split in the middle for Manilow to make his entrance, a trap door in the middle for his piano, and a mini-terrace/elevator that he used to come down to the front row.

We left early, just after Copacabana, so I don’t have a full set list, but here goes: Miracle; Daybreak; Somewhere In the Night; This One’s For You; A medly of some boogie-woogie thing (Jump Shout was one of the lines?), Chattanooga Choo Choo, then back to the boogie woogie thing; Moonlight Serenade; When Can I Touch You?; Bandstand; I Made It Through the Rain (mixed with an early music story); Can’t Smile Without You; Looks Like We Made It; Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed?; Even Now; New York City Frame of Mind; a story about Vegas vs. home vs. other cities; Come (Baby I Love You); Yesterday (the Beatles tune); Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You; Where Did Our Love Go (sung mostly by the backup singers); Mandy; I Write the Songs; Copacabana…

If it weren’t for the free tickets, I’m not sure I would have gone. The seats were expensive by my standards, $77 up to $248 (before fees) through that national seller we all love to hate. That said, I have to admit it was a good show. While it wasn’t transcendent I honestly enjoyed myself and I’m glad to have gone. I think that Barry’s fans got their money’s worth.

I took lots of pictures, including the one above, which I hope to have on-line soon.

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, 06 May 2007

I was indisposed the last few days, so it took me a couple extra to actually get this posted.

The last couple times Roger Clyne has come to town, we’ve been blessed with Saturday night shows. This time we were most fortunate in that May 5th was on a Saturday this year and Roger was coming to town. His Cinco de Mayo shows are reported to be something else.

Rogers merch guy was the first opener and he did a great job. He’s got an album of his own and while it’s a bit lighter than Roger’s stuff, it’s still very good. Jason did a bunchk of stuff from the CD and a couple new ones rounded out his 30 minute set.

The second band was a group called Shurman, a 4 piece from California. They’ve toured with Roger before and seem to have a pretty respectable following in their own right. They did about a 60 minute set that tended more toward rock than the Sowthwest twinge of the Peacemakers. I didn’t pick up a CD although I should have.

I don’t know what time Roger and the boys took the stage, but it turned out to be everything I love about an RCPM show.

There were 29 songs on the set list, which I’d guess ran about 2 hours. On paper it reads as follows: Hello New Day, Mexico, Counterclockwise, Noisy Head, Maybe We Should Fall In Love, Tell Yer Momma, Mexican Moonshine, Contraband, Wanted, Bury My Heart at the Trailer Park, World Ain’t Gone Crazy, Banditos, Plenty, Feel Alright, Down Together, Winter In Your Heart, I Don’t Need Another Thrill, Bottom of the Bay, Jack vs. Jose, Wake-Up Call, Andale, Green and Dumb, Junebug In July, Who Let the Goon Squad In, Girly, Mekong, Leaky Little Boat, Lemons, Nada

After the show I got a chance to hang with each of the guys for a few minutes. When I talked to Roger, he asked if there was something I’d like to hear on the set list. Unable to collate the list in my head fast enough, I said “God Gave Me A Gun” which I’d love to hear live. He said they’d see about doing it one of the next couple nights.

I don’t see it as a promise, but it would be cool. We’ll just have to see in Des Moines tomorrow night.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Since I’m a bit of a fan of the Sau Paulo sound and of The Dakota, I sort of decided at the last minute to take in the Céu show. It was only $12 and I didn’t have anything else going on, so why not?

I’ve talked about The Dakota before, so I’ll skip most of the detail except to say this: avoid the mezzanine seats unless you can get along the railing. That means 210-219 are quite good and 220-229 are decent. Sadly that means 230-239 are pretty bad. The sound in those seats is great, that,a never a question at The Dakota, but the sight lines are terrible.

I was originally scheduled to see Céu at the 9PM show on Wednesday, but scheduling concerns meant they were only doing one show each night instead of two. I opted for the the Tuesday show rather than a refund and ended up at #230. I could see the top of her head, shoulders up on the bass player, and the backdrop. That’s it.

</complaining>

There must be something in the water in Brazil, because their musicians are, without exception, absolutely stunning. Céu was certainly no disappointment.

The only way I can describe the Céu’s music, and really the Sao Paolo sound, is to say Brazillian chill-out, mixed with Jazz, afro-beat, and gorgeous, velvety-rich vocals. If you don’t love it after the first listen, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Céu herself sounds much like Bebel Gilberto mixed with I can’t quite decide who. Regardless, the result is positively mesmerising. She has a voice I wish could sing me to sleep every night.

She was joined on stage by 5 musicians; there was the bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, and a DJ. I have to say that’s a first for me, seeing a DJ on stage at The Dakota.

The show was absolutely great, although I’m reminded of my only other complaint about The Dakota: the shows tend to run short. A typical show there is just over 60 minutes where most of the other stuff I see is 75-90 minutes for the main act plus 30-45 for an opener.

For $12, even with the crummy sight-line, it was more than worth it. I still managed to get a couple pictures during the show, as well as an autograph and picture with Céu after the show.

I did pretty well for a last minute, on-a-whim kind of thing.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

It was roughly a year ago that I first saw Amiina in concert. They were the opening act when Sigur Ros played at the State Theater (or was it The Orpheum?)

It turned out, at the time, that they’re also the string section for Sigur Ros.

This time they were here as a headliner playing The Varsity, with a guy named Tom Broussard doing warmup.

In what seems to be becoming almost cliché, Broussard is probably best described as a singer/songwriter. Armed with just a guitar, a harmonica, and his voice, he put on a 30-45 minute set. Vocally, I’d compare him to Jeff Buckley, with a similarly high pitch and a tendency toward softer, almost introspective lyrics.

I tried to grab a CD after the show, but he had already packed up and was on his way out at that point. Maybe I’ll remember to find one later.

The four women of Amiina, like Sigur Ros and Bjork before them, are all from Iceland.

It’s also interesting to watch them on stage. Every so often, as each piece calls for it, they just get up and float over to a different instrument. Each of them seem equally adept any of the instruments on stage; from violin to cello to bells to keyboard to guitar to xylophone. I only saw one of them actually play the mandolin, but at least two played the musical/singing glasses.

Heaven must sound like Amiina, I think, because that’s the only way I can describe their music. Sonicly their songs are lilting and powerful at the same time. Pure magic.

Because they aren’t very strong with English, they didn’t really announce their songs at all. Couple that with only a few song even having lyrics, I have no way of doing a set list. They only have 1 EP, 1 single, and one album (brand new, released the day of the show), and did about 12-15 songs, so they petty much did everything they have.

In spite of their difficulty with the local language, they did talk a little between songs. That too was wonderful because even their accent is musical.

You can bet I’ll see them again given the chance.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

I first saw Erin McKeown when she was here, opening for Mike Doughty a couple years ago. She put on a great set and I immediately bought her CD after the show. There she was, working her own merch, and I got the chance to meet her. And what a firecracker she was. Cracking jokes and having a great time, it was infectious.

She didn’t have change when I paid for my CD, so I just said to keep the extra $5 and it was no big deal. She wrote a bit extra for my autograph and was happy to pose for a picture — one which she took herself by holding my camera at arm’s length. A couple minutes later, as I was waiting in line to talk with Doughty, she practically tackled me to give make sure I got my change since she had it. The disk was We Will Become Like Birds and, as it happens, I rather enjoy it. It has a near-permanent place on my iPod and gets played quite often.

I was glad to see her coming back to town as a headliner at the Cedar Cultural Center. I would have preferred a bigger venue, but this was good. I didn’t hesitate in buying a ticket and really looked forward to the show.

When I got there, I discovered that she had many more than just the one CD. In addition to Birds there were five others and I bought them all. I simply couldn’t resist.

The opening act was a woman named Haley Bonar. She was O.K., the songs being mostly very simple 4/4 numbers free of any real complication. I ended up passing on her CD. The set just wasn’t good enough to pay $15 for the disk.

One of Erin’s disks turned out to be covers of old Jazz tunes; stuff from the 20’s and 30’s. It’s an era I hold dear to my heart. Much of my favorite music is from that era. It’s the stuff that really sticks with me through the years.

Once Erin came out, things got good. She did a bunch of stuff from the Jazz disk, as well as from Birds and her older releases. The set list went something like this: Thanks for the Boogie Ride; Paper Moon; White City; James!; I Was a Little Too Lonely (You Were A Little Too Late); You Were Right About Everything; The Taste of You; Coucou; Sing You Sinners; Melody; Rhode Island is Famous for You; What Kind of Lover Am I?†; I Will Never Leave You†; To the Stars†; Slung-Lo; Wooden Boat?† (a new song); We Are More; Halleluja…Get Happy; with an encore of: If You a Viper; Blackbirds.

After the show Erin came out for autographs and meet-n-greet. I got to chat with her for a couple minutes and got my photo from the Doughty show signed. She actually remembered the occasion and the $5 thing. I also found out she has been in town nearly a dozen times. I admitted that the Doughty show was the first I had heard of her, and I wish it had been much earlier. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to perhaps the tiniest fanboy crush, so that’s about as far as I got. My brain went to mush because I was talking to a cute girl with a great voice and I completely forgot go get any of the new CDs signed.

You can bet I won’t miss her again and I can’t wait for the next time. If you get the chance, don’t miss it.

† I’m not 100% sure of the song title. Erin didn’t announce them and I can’t seem to pick them out from just looking at the track lists on her CDs.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

I originally wrote this on my BlackBerry at and after the show, but for some reason never posted it. It may have something to do with how the it just dies at the end, but I’m tossing it up anyway.

The Cedar, another former movie theater that has found new life as a concert venue, is a neat little place. With a capacity of about 500, it now plays host to folk and minor rock acts, rather than the latest picture show.

It’s not big on amenities, preferring to bring in quality music and retain the history of the place. And it really works for them. Ic’ve seen such varied music as classical guitar (California Guitar Trio), Swedish rock (Hoven Droven), and even Klezmer music in the form of the Klezmatics.

In truth, The Klezmatics are more a fusion of traditional Klezmer music and more modern, rock sensibilities. Their newest album is all Woody Guthrie lyrics set to up-tempo Klezmer instrumentation.

I thought, at first, that thuds was obscure enough that it wouldn’t be that full. Not was I wrong. The Cedar was packed. Filled to capacity. Standing room only. I’m not sure if it was from the Guthrie fans or the local Jewish community. Either way it was a strong show of support for something other than what we’re force-fed on the radio.

The Klezmatics came out to strong applause and did a 60-minute first set with a good mix of rocked-up traditional influenced music and quite a few song from their most recent CD.

I’m not sure what else to say about the show… I can say, with confidence, that it was great and I enjoyed myself immensely; but somehow that doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Sadly, it will have to do this time.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

G. Love has always been one of my favorite artists. Starting with his eponymous debut CD in 1992, I was an instant fan. His Philly-Blues style never fails to please and always seems to improve my mood, no matter how dark.

The show was completely sold out. While waiting for the doors to open (so up could check my coat, grab a beer, and still get a good spot), I heard they had 30 tickets available. If you didn’t already have one, you weren’t getting into the show. The extra effort paid off, because I managed to get right up front, just left of center. The only way I could have done better would have been as a member of the band.

One of the things I always dread about concerts at First Ave. are 18+ shows. They tend to bring out all the club kids that think going to shows is all about being seen and getting as wild as possible. Back in my early days I left that stuff up to the drunks and the beautiful people. For me it is, and always will be about the music.

The opener was a group called Redeye. As rumoured before the show, they turnred out to be a white-boy reggae act. They weren’t half bad, doing 8 or 9 songs in their 40 minute set. Mostly original tunes, with a couple covers tossed in. I don’t know that I’d go see them as a headliner, but as a starter they were pretty good.

G. Love took the stage around 10:50 and did about 90 minutes. The show was filled with several songs from his latest album Lemonade (which came with a scratch-n-sniff sticker) and many of my favorites. Among them was “Cold Beverage” and “”.

After the show, the coat check line was huge. While waiting my turn I saw them escort Garrett out of the club. That meant no sitphraph for my picture from last time. The night could have been only slightly better — if I had had someone to share it with. It was Valentine’s Day, after all, and I’m not completely immune. Still, it was a fantastic night and I would certainly do it all over again.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

It’s been years since I’ve been to a comedy show. Back then I went to several local clubs to see standup the way I think it should be: small, smokey, and intimate. Back before they all got big and started doing stadium shows instead.

There are only a few comedians whose work I enjoy enough to actually rant to see them live outside a club setting. Dennis Miller, Denis Leary, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor (although he was slightly before my time), and Lewis Black.

After seeing him on The Daily Show and several TV standup specials, he came to the State Theater in Minneapolis and did his thing.

Always the angry sort, he did riffs on religion, politics, sports, and the absurdity of life in general.

He spent a lot of time on politics, but that wasn’t always the case in his act. I think the big change came about shortly after 9/11, when entire world governments truly went berzerk. Now the jokes seem to write themselves — a concept he even touched upon in his performance.

All told the show was between 2 and 2.5 hours, which included John Bowen opening and a 15 minute intermission.

Both Bowen and Black came out for autographs after the show. I’m still enough of a fanboy that I stood in line after the show just to say hi. OK, maybe not just to say “Hi,” I did get my CD autographed and a picture wpth him too.

It was a fun show and I laughed the whole time. Pretty good for a big theater show, although I think I still prefer the smaller clubs instead.