Tag Archives: New York City

Back of My Neck Getting Dirty and Gritty

29 Jun

Is there a song that screams summer more than “Summer in the City” by New York natives The Lovin’ Spoonful? Today, as I walked through the blistering summer heat and bathed myself in the hot sun that baked the sidewalk, I immediately thought of the ode to a hot and sticky New York City summer day and smiled. The song is a true classic. Everything from John Sebastian’s excellent voice, to the background city noises, to the repetitive guitar riff that seeps into your head as sweat pours out, meshes perfectly to form a less-than-3-minute gem. It’s a fun song and it’s great to sing along with…especially when you are sweating and burning walking on the same streets that Mark Sebastian was writing about when he penned the song.

And, what’s better on a sunny summer day than a little trivia. Hear the electric piano in the song? The individual who played the electric piano on the Spoonful record is a musician/composer who has done some pretty famous arrangements in his career. Can you name that person? Also, for bonus points, what famous Frankie Valli song did he arrange? Have a good weekend everyone!

The Left Banke Brings Baroque Back to B.B. King’s Bar and Grill

1 May

Front row seats and an iPhone = Pics o’ Plenty

In 1966, a group of musicians tried something a little different. Inspired by the British Invasion and the incipient inclusion of string instruments in rock n’ roll songs, The Left Banke, under the auspices of writer/keyboardist Michael Brown’s father Harry Lookofsky (a session violinist who ran a studio and became interested in the band’s sound) sold a piece composed by Brown called “Walk Away Renee” to Smash Records. It didn’t take long before the song became a hit, disseminating this creative new style to several of their contemporaries who observed this string-laden rock and tried it out for themselves. The song features a noticeable string section, harpsichord, and a flute solo (inspired by the Mamas and Papas “California Dreamin”). The music was inspirational, ethereal, melodic, but most importantly different and refreshing. It is pre-progressive rock and pre-psychedelic. And what’s so freaky is that the band members were teens. Now, 46 years after the song’s release, the Left Banke are back, and last weekend I was fortunate enough to see them reunite and play B.B. King’s Bar and Grill in New York City.

I want to focus this post not on the history of this underappreciated band, but on the concert which featured a revitalized and excited Tom Finn, George Cameron, and, in place of Steve Caro, killer vocalist and guitar Mike Fornatale. Current members also include Paul Alves – Guitar, Charly Cazalet – Bass, Mickey Finn – Keyboards,  Rick Reil – Drums / Vocals.

The Left Banke was joined by opening act Alan Merrill who too was a trend-setter. The Bronx-born son of jazz musicians became the first westerner to achieve pop star status in Japan. He actually tried out for the Left Banke in 1968 and while the audition was successful the band dissolved. He moved to Japan and tried to start a career there which faced some initial stumbling blocks but eventually became extremely successful and he was boosted into teen idol status. This was all before he co-wrote and released the first version of internationally recognized mega-hit “I Love Rock n’ Roll” which you all know to be by Joan Jett. His set was short but his three-person band (including himself) performed up-beat rock beats with Merrill soloing on his electric. And, as expected, at the sound of “I Love Rock n’ Roll” everyone perked up and started singing along because it is actually impossible not to sing that chorus.

Alan Merrill

The Left Banke walked onto stage soon after. Well, actually all of them but one; Tom Finn was somewhere on the main floor. The band shared a great laugh with the crowd before Finn climbed on stage, plugged in, and assured the crowd that it got better. Finn looked at Cameron and the band, counted down, and they were off, performing track two on side one of their seminal album Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina. “She May Call You Up Tonight,” a Brown and Caro composition, sparked immediate harmonies that showed no rust.

The Left Banke concentrated on meticulously perfected harmonies and I’m sure they would have been disappointed if the melody was off, but, they were even more on than I thought they would have been. Fornatale’s excellent voice certainly helped, but I give Finn and Cameron credit for successfully jumping right into mid-60s form. If you closed your eyes (and ignored the difference in lead vocalist) you were transported back to youthful smiles and moptops.

I’ve discussed “Pretty Ballerina” before on this blog. This has been a song that my father (who also attended the concert with my girlfriend and me) and I have talked about at length. There is something so eerie and depressing, but surreptitiously beautiful about this Brown composition. It is dream-like (understandably when you look at the lyric) and repetitive. It is that piano repetition that gets you.

And wouldn’t you know it, the man himself, Michael Brown, joined The Left Banke to play his trademark keyboard riff. When he walked on stage he received a warm standing ovation from the crowd who more than appreciated his appearance and, he jumped right into the riff like never missed a beat. He never did miss a beat. I will say it now. I have said it many times. “Pretty Ballerina” was one of the most creative and influential songs written in the 1960s and it is a shame more do not know of it.

Michael Brown doing what he does best.

The Left Banke played 23 songs during the show and sampled from their first two albums and other catalog material. Songs like “Barterers and their Wives,” “Shadows Breaking Over My Head,” and the Finn-creation “Nice To See You” received some of the most applause. For one man sitting a few tables down for me, “Bryant Hotel,” sung by George Cameron, was the absolute highlight of his night. It’s a great song, but he was practically begging for it.

The show also featured a talented two-person string section of violinist Lynn Bechtold and cellist Ben Larsen who provided the refreshing strings to most of the pieces.

Like all good things, the concert did come to a close, but I learned a few things. First off, The Left Banke is creating new material and make sure to keep in tune with their Facebook for more information.  You can also check out their website and a great fan page.

Mainly, though, I learned that the Left Banke should be higher regarded in 60’s music history books. Despite the band’s limited releases, their influence on several baroque pop bands that came into popularity in the early 70s cannot be overstated. They grandfathered that movement and were a gigantic influence on progressive rock.

Making the Town Hall Like Home – Colin Hay 4/29/12

29 Apr

It made complete sense that Colin Hay performed at Town Hall in New York City’s Times Square. Town Hall, an intimate theater between Sixth and Broadway, sits around 1,500 people comfortably in warm colors. It is not so much a concert venue, but rather a true theater that fits in with the several Broadway buildings it borders. So, appropriately Colin Hay fit right in with the setting, entertaining the crowd with anecdotes and sprinkled badinage between songs. And, the fact that he performed the show in honor of former Men at Work bandmate Greg Ham who passed away only 10 days ago, just made the night more special for those who had the privilege of seeing the Scottish/Australian acoustic crooner.

What is so striking about a Colin Hay concert is his effortless eloquence. He is a smooth talker and his Australian-influenced brogue gives his words extra power that on Friday resounded through the theater. Hay is the very definition of a troubador, telling his engaging life story through a set list mostly devoted to his chronological development. You felt at home with Hay, like he was one of your buddies and you were sitting around at a backyard barbecue. Strike up the grill, put on some portobello mushrooms (he is a vegetarian like myself), tell stories, and play tunes. It is a comfortable formula, and with it Hay made Town Hall feel like home.

Before Hay came on stage, the crowd was buttered up by acoustic singer/songwriter Ryan Montbleau, who kidded with the audience about his insecurities while diving into his short set of well-developed pieces. The music was creative and refreshing and I will not say more now because Montbleau will be featured on the Music Court within the coming weeks.

Then, with the sounds of “Down Under,” and the voice over by a passionate individual stating that Hay saved his life from washed-down pop music (after he heard Hay’s music on the Garden State soundtrack and the television show Scrubs), Hay walked on stage in a sharp coat and said hello to the audience, immediately engaging in a running dialogue (even though he couldn’t hear well with his ear plugs) that represented up his charm, intelligence, and humor.

Hay told several stories under the roof of the Town Hall in between songs, and some stories (most) worked to set up music. For example he described how he wrote “Beautiful World” while in California detoxing from his Australian-influenced alcoholic ways. He then described how he knew an individual who sang the song out in the Pacific and then was gnawed at by a shark who clearly enjoyed the piece. As Hay said during the show, the person kept singing the song and it was as if the shark said, ‘I may eat you, but, give me a few more verses of that song.”

The stories were well-timed and humorous, but the music was clearly why everyone came to watch Mr. Hay perform (even though his stories could have carried a separate performance in and of itself), and the tunes were wonderful.

Hay toggled between old Solo material, Men at Work music, and work off his newest album Gathering Mercury. The mix included “Who Can it Be Now,” “Send Somebody,” “Maggie,” etc. and then a 4-song conclusion that, like a molten chocolate cake, closed out the night with perfection. This included my favorite Hay piece, “Waiting for my Real Life to Begin” and an excellent, picked version of “Overkill.”

A performance from Maine in 2010. Hay finished off the show with a song he and Ham wrote and it, as anticipated, started a wonderful sing along. Here is “Be Good Johnny.”

Before I post this, I want to post one more story that Hay told that I thought was hilarious. He talked of how he became friends with Paul McCartney when he was performing his solo material in California. Growing up idolizing the Beatles, this was quite extraordinary for Hay. He tells the story of McCartney coming over for dinner and how he had two moments to himself during the night. The first was when McCartney arrived and Hay couldn’t believe Paul McCartney was in his driveway. The second was after dinner, when McCartney took the dishes into the kitchen and started running them under water, sparking the realization that Paul McCartney was doing his dishes.

🙂 – One more for good measure. Here is “Beautiful World”

Weekend Concert Preview – Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

26 Apr

Wrong day and Year!

Don’t worry, I will not make you suffer through the Meatloaf song that shares the name of the title of this post. That’s mean. I actually don’t mind Meatloaf. Yes, he is corny, but he does have a great voice. Great! A completely off-topic opening. Okay, let’s shake it off and get to the main posts.

The purpose of this post is to produce a schedule that I promise I will follow to a tee. I haven’t been great about setting a blogging schedule for myself and following it but I promise to stick to this plan…mostly!

This involves delaying the two-week new band splurge. I will most likely begin this early next week (probably Tuesday). There are a good amount of bands that I will be profiling so make sure to tune in for that. Why should you view the blog prior to this? Concert reviews! Two of them.

Like I said yesterday, I will have the pleasure of seeing former Men At Work crooner Colin Hay tomorrow. I jumped on the opportunity to buy tickets to this New York City show. While Men at Work is what he may be known for (“Down Under” was a huge international hit), Hay has released 11 solo studio albums, the most recentGathering Mercuryin 2011. Through this, he has developed a unique sound that blends 80’s World Music with acoustic easy-listening. It is his voice, though, that is most attractive. Hay’s voice is soothing with great range. He is also a gifted lyricist – laid back and intelligent.

I have to thank Zach Braff for my introduction to Colin Hay. I believe Hay gathered many fans this way. Braff, who knows good acoustic music, featured his music (and him – see video below) on “Scrubs” and his music was disseminated from there. Take a listen to “Overkill” while watching a funny performance from “Scrubs.” Don’t you just love the media age? I know Colin Hay does. The video has more than 3 million views.

The Left Banke follows Sunday which I am very excited about. This reunion should be excellent and I wrote about it a little while ago. Read this and look forward to two concert reviews soon! https://musiccourtblog.com/2012/02/22/the-left-banke-ask-renee-to-walk-away-again/

Living Life Among the Savages

29 Feb

Peter Barbee is living among savages. While I am pretty sure that the savages are a little different from those written about by Shirley Jackson in her domestic, short-story compilation Life Among the Savages, they are still savages – and they influenced the name of Barbee’s pseudonym. Barbee recently released his debut album Wanderings of an Illustrative Mind, and its dreamy indie concoction is musically insightful.

My sister told me to check out “New York City,” one of the 12 tracks from this Smoky Mountains native, and it hooked me immediately – enough that I got the urge to check out the entire album and then share my findings with all of you. Before I move on let me shamelessly plug my sister’s arrival into the blogosphere. If you are interested in fashion I ask you to check out her blog, Hipstersleek. While my view of “in style” is a pair of jeans and a sweater, she has some great insights into the world of runway/street styles.

On to Among Savages. The album is multifactorial. Yes, this is a word often used in scientific studies and mathematics, but I believe it is a great way to describe Barbee’s musical style (see I can use style too). Barbee plays with orchestral smoothness, alternative pop beats and variegated harmony. In order to successfully fuse all of these genres, though, the singer must be a chameleon of sorts, and Barbee’s voice certainly has this quality.

I’m going to start with the beginning. Simple enough, right? “Start at the Beginning” is not surprisingly the first track on the album and I think it does an excellent job introducing Barbee’s blend of indie music. It begins with refreshing strings followed by Barbee’s repetition of the title of the track. I immediately get a taste of OneRepublic, specifically Ryan Tedder’s voice, but the song travels a more subdued route. I also think Barbee has even more range to it. The man knows how to sing. He knows when to lay off and when to hit listeners with high notes. The ending is comfortable and infectious. The harmony is creative, to say the least.

I jump forward in the album to “Faith in You,” a concise track that features immediate piano and easy percussion. The song gradually rises, focusing mainly on Barbee’s excellent voice, until we hit a driving chorus that mixes an effervescent violin with the rhythm. 

The song that initially drew me into Among Savages was “New York City.” It is track 11 on the album and also features some of the best lyrics in the entire compilation of music.

It must be hard to live in the midst of all those buildings
Where the changing of the wind don’t seem a miracle at all
Don’t bother end to end, it’s a maze of bad habits
Where the rabbit in the hat is just a train in the fog

Yeah, you came here with nothing and you leave here with the same
Sometimes the road that you were walking on is going the wrong way
Just come as you are
When you leave, you will be changed 

That is just a small sampling of the piece about the big city. Barbee is a Nashville guy and this song is not an ode to NYC, but I do love the message that one must live everyday like it is a gift. I feel that this message while tired is always true and refreshing, and I don’t think his thoughts are hackneyed but personal and candid. The music though is where the strength lies.

Immediately, it is easy to notice something different about this song. The staccato piano leads into a Band of Horses-like harmony. A driving percussion sets the tone. The song is infused with clear Irish elements followed by loose horns and background party noises. It is like what happens when you combine Great Big Sea with eccentric indie music. That is just awesome! You know a song is great when it is over three minutes long but feels like it only lasts a minute. It moves quickly and is so wonderfully catchy. This is my favorite song on the album and absolutely relevant in the “great new artists and song” discussion.

For more about Among Savages visit their website. Twitter. Facebook

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