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Ben Folds Rocked The Suburbs – The Space at Westbury

2 Jul

Ben Folds

On June 23 at the Space in Westbury Ben Folds was Ben Folds. I do not question that Ben Folds is himself every second of the day, but the cheeky, bespeckled singer/songwriter with enough wit to slay a room full of eager ears was able to completely express himself during the 26-track unplugged set. It was just Folds and his immense grand piano … and an impromptu drum set during “Steven’s Last Night in Town” (that proved that Folds is truly a renaissance musician). Most of all, though, it was an unconstrained Folds who was able to take a break from his orchestral tour and encourage several loud requests from a rambunctious crowd; although I was about to explode at the individual who obnoxiously yelled “play ‘Bitches Aint Sh*t'” around 50 times. Folds swooned the crowd with a jam-packed discography spanning his over 25-year career. Currently, Folds is in the midst of an honorable campaign to save Nashville’s Historic Studio A, and I mention this because it just further demonstrates that Folds is a musician’s musician, an ardent supporter of tunes and perspicacious purveyor of piano anthems.

Folds packed the new theater at Westbury, a surreptitiously large space with rows of seats set back behind the stage floor and elongated bar in a nook set stage left. The crowd spanned Folds’ career. Mid-90s aficionados recited the lyric of “The Last Polka” (off of the Ben Folds Five’s eponymous debut album), while newer Folds fans rocked out to “You Don’t Know Me,” a set-list surprise that sent the crowd in a dizzy – Folds depended on the female members of the audience to play Regina Spektor’s part, even though a rather intoxicated male screamed Spektor’s lines in a tune resembling a dying animal. It was, though, the zealous crowd that helped make the show. Folds balanced his songs from his standard setlist during his most recent tour (“Effington,” “Jesusland,” “Steven’s Last Night in Town”) with personal tributes to his early career (“Video,” “Tom & Mary,” and “Emaline”) – Check out the full setlist. The crowd ate everything up like the people at the restaurant in “All U Can Eat,” which he also played – well … maybe not those people who are all obnoxious gluttons, but you get my point. The crowd sang along with most songs, and this was a delightful touch that added energy to the show.

Best songs? “Fred Jones Part 2,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Army.” Each song was met by a singing crowd. Each song Folds played passionately, his vocal and piano reverberating throughout the venue. Folds is a consummate musician and it shows. But the best moment of the night came with the personal “Westbury” touch. After exchanging normal platitudes with the crowd and asking who was from Westbury, some individual in the back screamed that no one is actually from Westbury, which is obviously false but, at the time, it was rather funny. Folds proceeded to tell the audience a story of how he went to the Broadway Diner, a popular diner in Hicksville (near Westbury), which he turned into a circa-1964 British pop song with a catchy hook that he had the audience create a three-part harmony with. Why? Why do this? Because Folds loves music. He loves harmony. He loves entertaining. He is a tremendous musician, and this solo show at the Space was a testament to that.

Is Folds coming to your area? Take a look at his tour schedule.

Arctic Monkeys Live Review

22 Nov

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(Sheffield Motorpoint Arena, 18th November)

It would have been understandable if the fans inside the Motorpoint Arena had held reservations about what was to come. After all, when the lead singer’s come down with Laryngitis just weeks before, you might be wondering if the gig would be a bit half-arsed, just completing their contact?

They needn’t have worried. From the start, it was clear all of the band were on fine form. The brooding glam rock of their first song, Do I Wanna Know, was almost drowned out by the crowd by cheers and people actually dancing instead of acting as Youtube cameramen.

It was also abundantly clear that the Sheffield band’s most recent album was the focus of the night. A whopping nine songs – almost half of the setlist – were taken from AM. It had been receiving rave reviews from critics and it was clear that the audience adored it just as much. Arabella, I Wanna Be Yours and One For the Road were all greeted by waves a cheering from fans that already knew every word. R U Mine, the last song in their encore, also remains a monster of song – possibly the most perfect one they’ve ever written.

Between the appreciation for the new album, the band managed to find time for a whirlwind tour of their hits. Quite a few songs from the middle period of their career were missed out, but who’s got time when the crowd’s holding a mass-singalong to I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor or swaying their lighters to Mardy Bum?

Even if Arctic Monkeys have already performed that setlist a dozen times before, the gig still felt special. There was a palpable sense of energy throughout, which was reciprocated by the audience.

Alex Turner has a reputation a stoic, restrained frontman, preferring to let his songs talk for him, however he was relatively chatty in Sheffield. Perhaps enjoying being back in his hometown, he seemed relatively chatty, asking the audience ‘Are you mine?’ and playfully telling them off when they began singing too early.

Although they didn’t bring any gimmicks like Muse or U2, Arctic Monkeys put on a hell of a live show. It was technically very proficient. With just some lights, a couple of small screens and a towering AM backdrop, they put on an incredible show where the stage always seemed to reflect the mood.

For some reason, the speakers mangled the sound for a couple of the subtler songs like Fireside, but it handled the louder ones brilliantly. The sound was at the perfect volume that encourages you to sing until your voice is raw.

Simply put, this good a band with such a magnificent back catalogue of songs can’t help but put on a hell of a show. Seven years of touring has made them into a well-oiled machine that knows exactly what crowds want.

It’s the Time of the Season for the Zombies

15 Jul

The Zombies

It’s not everyday that you can see a couple of British music legends play a free concert at Ellsworth W. Allen Town Park in Farmingdale, New York, but, thanks to the generosity of the Town of Oyster Bay and sponsors, last Wednesday presented this rare opportunity as part of the Music Under the Stars concert series – a neat calendar of free summer concerts in Town of Oyster Bay parks.

I had seen Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, and the reformed Zombies once before at a Hippiefest several years ago, and I remember thinking just how cool it was that I was able to see the creators of the infectious, somewhat unsettling (in a good way), 60’s Summer of Love call-and-response classic “Time of the Season.” In the years that have passed since that performance, the members of the Zombies, defiant of their band name, continue to perform jubilant shows that delicately mix a wide diversity of material and humorous, intelligible conversation with the crowd. As my mother said during the show, you almost feel like you are in the living room of one of their homes listening to a private performance among friends.

Now on the heels of the Zombies’ 2011 album Breathe Out, Breathe In, the band continues to perform with a high level of passion and energy. It was not difficult to recognize the band’s sincere love, respect, and knowledge of music. Played to a relaxed crowd of Long Islanders under a hazy blue sky, the concert featured a diverse trip through the Zombies’ brand of psychedelic pop/rock. The band – which also consists of Tom Toomey, and Jim and Steve Rodford – was crisp all evening, and Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone demonstrated their overwhelming talent. As unique and strong Colin Blunstone’s voice is, Rod Argent’s keen keyboard stylings match it.

As the night drew to a close and the fireflies provided white sparkles that flashed like cameras painted against the masked, aphotic sky, the Zombies played an energized version of the Argent classic, “Hold Your Head Up,” and their classic “She’s Not There.” For a finale, the band aptly played a pleasant cover of Gershwin’s “Summertime” to a well-deserved standing ovation. Great end to a great summertime evening.

An Airborne Toxic Orchestra Event – Summerstage 2013

22 Jun

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It was around halfway through the show when Airborne Toxic Event lead singer Mikel Jollett joked with the crowd that he may mess up “Dublin,” a new song he had only played a few times live. But as he plucked the first few acoustic notes of the piece, the sky painted on the horizon transformed from a dense gray to a palette of pink that penetrated the skyscrapers and accentuated the rich music. The halcyon scene demonstrated the model of an outdoor concert. But, the weather doesn’t always respond.

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As the above picture suggests, when we arrived to Central Park Summerstage, the weather was less than ideal. A persistent sprinkle fell on umbrellas and Summerstage ponchos. The Calder Quartet, a LA-based string quartet that has become an Airborne Toxic Event staple, opened, and, for the most part, drove the rain away.

Ensemble LPR, an assemblage of the finest New York-based concert musicians, joined The Calder Quartet on stage after the Quartet’s opening act. If one stumbled into Summerstage – which was quite possible considering that the concert was free (thanks to the generous City Parks Foundation), he/she might have assumed the crowd had gathered for a classical orchestra. And that was one of the most gripping parts of the show. It was just not your typical rock show.

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But, to be honest, I don’t believe anyone in the audience was expecting a typical rock show, because Airborne Toxic Event does not put on a typical rock show. The energy and skill demonstrated by the band is striking. It is not just music; it is art. Instead of simply creating catchy alt/rock pieces, Airborne Toxic Event prefers to script a scene (much like the inspiration for the band’s name, Don DeLillo), and this ability sets the band apart from others.

Perhaps the greatest indication of this individuality was the crowd at the show. Lining the front row barrier behind the photo pit was a wide array of ages, and, most surprisingly, everyone knew the words to each song. These were Airborne Toxic Event diehards, and, unlike with most bands, I couldn’t typify the standard Airborne Toxic Event fan. This evinces the diversity of the band and explains its growing audience.

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The crowded stage of talented musicians produced a full orchestra sound that elevated the show. It is clear that Airborne Toxic Event is not a band; it’s a symphony, a full on powerhouse that combines the potency of a full orchestra with a traditional genre and bends it. The resulting amalgamation is music that could only have been created by the mind of true artists!

This was best portrayed by the performance of “Sometime Around Midnight,” one of my favorite Airborne Toxic Event songs because of its sheer ardor. Not only did the orchestra carry the crescendo, but also most individuals in the audience knew the lyrics and emphatically sang along. It was electric.

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Airborne Toxic Event concluded the encore with a jam-packed version of “Missy” that featured teasers from American classics, “Ring of Fire,” “Born in the USA,” and “American Girl.”

Overall, while wet at times, Airborne Toxic Event put together a tremendous show, packed with oodles of impressive sound, and much credit to the Calder Quartet and Ensemble LPR who helped carry the show with precision and fervor. Throughout the show lead singer Mikel Jollett effusively thanked the crowd for joining the band at Summerstage, and the band’s humility was refreshing, but considering the tremendous entertainment that the band provided, it was the crowd that thanked the band for one of best free concerts I’ve been a part of – rain or no rain. As Jollett said in his introduction, “f*ck it, it’s Central Park!”

Check out the Summerstage schedule.

Ritter and the Royal City Band Rock Terminal 5

20 May
Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band

Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band

In “Lights,” the concluding track of Josh Ritter’s new album The Beast In Its Tracks,” Ritter sings “Every heart on Earth is dark half the time,” an apt line that seems to sum up Ritter’s unique brand of potent folk/rock and poetic lyric. Ritter, a realistic romantic, paints extraordinary love songs with settings that range from an Egyptian tomb to a government controlled missile silo, but balances these resplendent short stories with tales of lost love and regret. The heart is dark half the time.

But…it’s ablaze the other half of the time, and this vivacious beating organ was on display at Terminal 5 this past weekend when Ritter and his dashing Royal City Band wholeheartedly rocked a packed crowd with a satiating 20-song set.

After The Felice Brothers, a local New York folk/rock band, set a passionate tone with a vivacious opening act fit with sultry Dylan-like folk pieces and perfervid blues-laden songs fit with white-hot accordion, fiddle, and even washboard, Ritter came out alone at around 9 p.m. and immediately sang the soft opening notes of “Idaho,” his tribute to his home state.

One of the most striking features of a Josh Ritter performance is how happy he is to be on stage performing to a crowd. As a listener, you get the sense that he would be beaming even if he was performing to a group of 20-or-so listeners. He has a clear love for music, poetry, stories, and performance. This warmth was echoed by the audience that sang along to most of the songs – even providing the much-needed background to the end of one of Ritter’s most serene and melodic songs, “Change of Time” (below).

Ritter displayed why he is a true troubadour in his between-song monologues where he talked about his life – including a candid expression of divorce and love.

Each song was tinged with a calm force that washed over the crowd like a breeze. But of all the songs I wanted to hear, I was most excited for “The Temptation of Adam,” which was the song (off of the 2007 album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter) that first attracted me to Ritter’s music. This uber-creative love song that links the transition between attraction to deep (but somewhat apprehensive) love with a “top secret location 300-feet under the ground” (a missile silo) is as eccentric and zany as it is wondrous and impassioned. Ritter demonstrates his remarkable ability to write witty and brilliant lyrics that flow perfectly with the song. While I do not have a recording of his performance from this past Saturday, I do have one (Youtube) from 2011, also in Terminal 5.

Excellent concert! If Ritter and the Royal City Band is performing near your town, I seriously suggest you go to see them!

 

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