Memories Come Back to You

On Wednesday, November 18 I was back at Largo at the Coronet for actor Rainn Wilson’s book tour of his memoir “The Bassoon King.” Old 97’s front man Rhett Miller took the part of interviewer or perhaps, discussion instigator. While not exactly a concert, there was enough crossover interest in music and a few songs played, so that I decided it was worth while to write a post about the event.

The discussion began with Rainn explaining his association with the bassoon, which he referred to as his “nerd crucifix,” and how he got started playing the instrument as a teenager. There was some talk about playing D&D, Rainn’s early childhood in Nicaragua, and the title of the book. He read a funny excerpt from the book on how he imagined the discussion went between his parents when they were deciding on his name when he was born.

A through-line in the book is Rainn’s relationship to the Bahá’í Faith.  Rhett mentioned he felt like Rainn was always searching and questioning and enjoying the quest for deeper purpose (particularly through his work with SoulPancake), which led them into a discussion of music and its influences on both of them as teenagers. Rhett specifically mentioned how he found a lot of “meaning in the music” he was listening to at the time and that R.E.M.’s album “Life’s Rich Pagaent” was particularly important to him as a young teen. Both Rainn and Rhett were also big fans of Elvis Costello and so we had the first musical moment of the night, when the pair performed Costello’s “Mystery Dance” together.

Rainn talked for a bit about his wife Holiday Reinhard and told a brief story about their wedding in Washington state near Mount St. Helens. He then welcomed her to the stage where she had the audience pick between her poems and a short story with a cliffhanger that she would then read. The audience chose the cliffhanger, so she told part of a story, “Bitten,” that she is writing for future publication. It was centered around Holiday attending a children’s birthday party that was hosted by Paris Hilton at the height of the media’s obsession with her.

Rhett and Rainn returned to the stage and talked some more about their early musical experiences, including a teen band named, Insanity Circus. Next, Rhett treated us to a cover of “Suffragette City.” I was so excited about this as I have been listening to David Bowie lately, and had just listened to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which includes that song, the previous day. Can Old 97’s please put that on an album?

Rainn then talked a bit about acting and shared the timeline of his journey to become an actor. This included the story of how he learned to make an important change in his acting style, from large broadcasting gestures to listening to other actors and reacting. He also talked about taking risks, being vulnerable, and showing flaws.

The bassoon finally was brought out at the end of the discussion. Rainn prefaced his playing by telling the audience that he hadn’t played the bassoon for years up until about a week ago. Then, Rainn did a nice job of playing the theme from The Office on the bassoon.

The floor was opened up for Q&A and one of the first questions sparked off the singing of part of another Elvis Costello tune and Rainn’s story of having met Elvis Costello not too long ago. There was a question about how Rainn knew Rhett and it was revealed that Rainn had been an Old 97’s fan. The two ended up communicating via Twitter and eventually meeting at an Old 97’s show.  There was another question regarding Rainn’s involvement with the Josh Ritter performance in which paper airplanes were sent sailing across the audience (which continued as Josh played “Good Man” at his show). Another audience member complimented Rainn on his role in Six Feet Under and Rainn talked about how he came to play the role. The final question asked was about what Rainn missed about The Office.  He answered “the people” and how the cast was really like a family. That night there was a birthday party being held for Oscar Nuñez that most of the cast was attending.

Rhett closed the discussion by playing one more song. He performed the Old 97’s/Bob Dylan co-write, “Champagne, Illinois.” He spoke briefly about the background to the song, how he penned new lyrics to the tune of Bob Dylan’s song “Desolation Row,” and ten years later, Old 97’s got the permission to record Rhett’s version of the song. I’ve borrowed one of the lines from this song for the post’s title, which I thought was particularly appropriate for a discussion of a memoir.

Rainn Wilson Signing His Book "The Bassoon King"

Rainn Wilson Signing His Book “The Bassoon King”

Everyone who attended the event was given a copy of Rainn’s new book and Rainn stuck around just long enough to quickly sign the books. Perhaps he was headed off to Oscar’s party afterward. Though he was hastily autographing most books, he was kind enough to take an extra few seconds to dedicate the book I handed him, which I had endorsed to a bassoon-playing friend of mine.

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ll Be Doing the Same Things

Friday, November 13 was a heart-wrenching day in the world as we learned of the terrorist attacks in Paris, but particularly for music lovers who sadly learned that one of the attacks took place at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan. One of my friends had attended an Eagles of Death Metal concert in California only a couple weeks earlier, so this made it feel even more unreal. I was greatly disturbed and angered by these attacks, but already planned for the evening was Jon Brion‘s monthly show at Largo. I had mixed feelings about attending a night of entertainment in the wake of these events, but as Largo has so often proved an antidote to distress and sadness, I was opened to what Jon had to offer. I am pleased to say that he did not disappoint. It was great to feel like I was on the same wavelength as Jon. Every single song choice seemed to be the right choice in the moment. His handling of the whole evening was perfect. It was exactly what I needed and once again the magic of Largo helped to assuage the pain and grief of that day.

Comedian Neal Brennan opened for Jon, thankfully taking a moment to acknowledge the horrible events of the day. It felt like once he had done this, the audience then had permission to laugh and enjoy the show. I am not going to say too much about his routine, other than it was pretty entertaining and I would be happy to see him on stage again.

It is sometimes difficult to describe what Jon is doing on the piano when he first sits down and is improvising or linking one song you may or may not know to another and adding clever transitional music in between. When he came on stage he started off on the piano and played what seemed like a lot of random notes, almost like a child playing on the piano, but yet the notes hung together and played off one another in a seemingly related manner.  I don’t know if he was aiming for it, but there were a few moments of the first piece that sounded like a disjointed version of “Rhapsody in Blue.” The second piece began with a carillon cacophony of notes before transitioning to an old jazz style and eventually evolving into “Moonlight Serenade.” This progressed into Jon’s song, “Ruin My Day“from his album Meaningless.

Still on the piano, playing slowly, quietly, with both hands covering a narrow range of notes, he switched the lever on the piano to change the tone of the notes, creating traditional Chinese music-like tones. This evolved into a despondent song, an unrecorded song known as “Stop the World” (check out this recently posted version). Lyrics included: “There are times when I’m doing well, then a voice deep inside will start…well how can anyone stop the world from beating up my heart…how many times will I call it quits.” This one really resonated with me.

After playing this song he took a moment to talk about Eagles of Death Metal. He first found out about them when he visited a friend who was working on the sound on the first Eagles of Death Metal album, as they were recording the album not too far away from Largo (I believe Jon used the words, “just down the street”).  He also talked about how thankful he was to be able to do what he was doing (performing for people) and his appreciation for the audience attending the show. He talked about the camaraderie of musicians and how, “everyone who does it has kinship with everyone else” who does it.  He then performed a slow, thoughtful, laid-back version of the song “It Looks Like You” on guitar, a song on Evan Dando’s album Baby I’m Bored, which he had also played last month.

Continuing on guitar, he began playing a jazzy number, with some nice use of harmonics. Started off seemingly as an instrumental, but it was just a long lead-in to the lyrics for “Foolin’ Myself,” a song originally recorded by Billie Holiday.

Jon headed back to the piano and teased a little bit of “Take the A-Train,” but ended up playing a Buzzcock’s song, “You Say You Don’t Love Me.”  Next was another Jon Brion original from the film soundtrack of I Heart Huckabees, “Knock Yourself Out.”

Then, Jon got chatty while taking out the duct tape to mute the piano strings, including referring disparagingly to most drum solos, stating, “I love good drum solos; that’s the problem.” He made a quiet exception toward backstage to Griff (I had spotted Griffin Goldsmith, drummer for Dawes, in the lobby earlier). Jon launched into “Meaningless” from his album of the same name, including an extended ending with an Inspector Gadget Theme Song type of pattern hammering through the bass notes.

He then asked for a request, played a lot of chords as if he was working something out, and then sang  “The Girl I Knew (Would Make Fun of You)” with some switched up lyrics, “The girl I knew would see right through you.”  Immediately after that he played “Strange Bath,” also from I Heart Huckabees. This is such an interesting number and I feel he used this here as his own scene transition music, as he switched from playing heartfelt songs from within himself to audience singalong time.

He chose some pretty popular songs for the singalongs, staying safe with Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” The Beatles “You Won’t See Me” (link is to Paul McCartney performing the song live), and back-to back David Bowie songs, “Changes” and “Space Oddity” (the latter of which he asked the audience to perform “slow and exultant” or as he joked, “in the Italian musical notation, Alfredo Exultante”).  These choices hit my personal feelings on the head.

He switched to guitar to play “Tell Me Why (Can’t Understand You)” by an “old L.A. band.”  After the song, he expressed his thanks again for our attendance and remarked that, “The sound is nice up here” (on stage) and how good it felt when, “there’s a few hundred people making sound at you, especially in harmony.” He closed the set with a song recorded by one of his former bands, The Grays, “Same Thing.” “And I’ll be doing the same things…so here goes nothing.” I’ve borrowed the lyric from this song for the title of this blog. Maybe he didn’t mean it this way, but after the news of the day, I felt he was proclaiming, we will continue to live our lives on our terms, despite others’ drastic attempts to disrupt our way of living. This theme is also in “Meaningless,” with the lyric,”Liberty raised her hand to us as if to say, ‘It’s OK, live today, live today.'”

He received a standing ovation at the end of the concert that went on for several minutes. I thought perhaps Jon wasn’t going to come out again, but the audience was clearly so appreciative of the night’s music, that Jon returned to the stage for his version of “Stairway to Heaven,” in which he splices in samples of many other songs.  Unlike the linked recording, this version was all strictly on piano. He was clearly spent by the end of the evening, having lent so much of himself emotionally to the night. And as much as he showed his appreciation for the audience, this audience member has a huge amount of gratitude for Jon’s effort that night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Strange As You Are

This is a recap (not a review or a critique) of Jon Brion’s show at Largo on October 30, 2015. It was the day before Halloween and Jon noted that the iconic helmet that sits on top of the piano originally came from the Halloween costume of a guy who used to work at the door of Largo.

The Largo Piano

The Largo Piano

As often happens, Jon started off at the piano. He played a song recorded by Billie Holiday in the 1930s called “I Must Have That Man!” He followed this by playing and singing David Bowie’s “Lady Stardust” from the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. He dabbled a little bit on the piano, briefly playing “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind.

Then he moved onto his own music next, playing “Here We Go” from the Punch-Drunk Love soundtrack. The blog post title was taken from this song’s lyrics. He then dug into the I Heart Huckabees score to perform “Strange Bath.”

Jon Brion's Acoustic Guitars

Jon Brion’s Acoustic Guitars

He switched over to his Epiphone guitar to play a laidback version of “It Looks Like You,” which was originally recorded by Evan Dando (sounds like Jon singing harmony on the recording). Still on guitar, he brought out his notebook and played a new song he has played a couple times previously in the last year. It is the one that has lyrics such as “The sweetest smile on your face…what are we left with?..the fact all the things that used to be are severely diminished…you ended up with much less than you thought…no trace of the thoughtful things you’d say…reduced to a monstrous cliché…left with the ramblings of a bitter skeleton.”  I would love to find out what Jon is calling this song.

Got out his 12-string guitar to play “I Believe She’s Lying,” which can be found on his album Meaningless.

Back to the piano for another song from I Heart Huckabees, “Over Our Heads.” Such a simple song, such perfect lyrics. “Think your troubles are so serious; well, one day you’ll be so long gone; ’cause nothing ever lasts; it all gets torn to shreds; if something’s everlasting; it’s over our heads.”

Jon then dove into a medley of tunes, playing piano and the microKorg, adding a drum beat, including songs: “People Are People”  by Depeche Mode, “Funkytown” from Lipps Inc., “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” by Bob Dylan, among others.

Then, I can’t believe he finally played “Walking Through Walls,” from Meaningless, which I have been wanting to hear since May. I know he played it once since then, but it was at a show I missed.

Then he strapped on his black and white Gretsch and played that awesome “At It Again” song.  Please record this song Jon Brion, so I can play it at home.

Jon asked for requests with the intention of an audience singalong, and so we got covers of Randy Newman’s “Short People,” (blech, who requested that?), “How Deep is Your Love,” by the BeeGees, in which the audience failed to sing the verses, and The Beach Boys song, “God Only Knows,” which fared the best as a singalong. This concluded the main set.

Largo at the Coronet

Largo at the Coronet Sign

For the encore, he asked for requests again and I said quietly, “A sad song.” He heard me through the cacophony of requests and actually responded, “I was thinking more in the other direction…but we’ll get there.” He ended up playing a lot of stuff on the piano, I just called it piano craziness in my notes, too much going on to be written down properly!  Next he played his song “Knock Yourself Out,” another one from I Heart Huckabees. To close, Jon picked the perfect sad song, Cole Porter’s, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” I chose to link a version sung by Ella Fitzgerald, who is my all-time favorite female vocalist. Thanks Jon, that was breathtaking. Largo forever!

This is How I Want to Be Remembered

I was thrilled to be able to attend Beta Play‘s EP release show on October 17, 2015 at Blind Tiger in Santa Barbara, CA. I first became familiar with the band when they were known as Tommy and the High Pilots and opened for the band Toad the Wet Sprocket in May 2014. They were fantastic. Bought their most recent album that night and had all the band members sign it and met four of the nicest, friendliest guys. The band is made up of phenomenal, charismatic lead singer and guitarist, Tom Cantillon; keyboardist, synthesizer/laptop master, and sometimes guitar player, Mike Cantillon; bassist and newest member, Mike Dyer; and adorable drummer (who can drum and chew gum), Matt Palermo (ex-Ludo).  I went on to see them play live nine times last year, during the middle of which the band changed their name to Beta Play.

Beta Play Performing at Blind Tiger

Beta Play Performing at Blind Tiger

There was a long stretch of time  this year where they didn’t play any shows while they were recording their EP. As one of the perks of their Pledge Music campaign to raise funds to release the EP, I was able to see them perform just a week before this show at a local backyard cookout, where they were very generous with their time, performing not just their songs but a few cover requests too.

Billy McIntrye of The Maybe Somedays

Billy McIntrye of The Maybe Somedays

I didn’t keep track of the set lists for the two opening bands on the night of the 17th, but I wanted to mention them here as they are worth checking out.  “The Maybe Somedays” performed some solid indie rock tunes as people filtered into the venue. The lead singer, Billy McIntyre, has a good voice that has a quality about it that brings to mind Green Day‘s Billie Joe Armstrong (he probably gets that comparison a lot).  The bassist, Yutaka Sao, played with some style, including a little behind the head action on the last song. Check out their song “All At Once” from their debut EP, All We Have is Everything.

The middle band, Layovr, had more of a funky, island rock style. Each of the players were clearly consummate musicians and showed off their abilities in some extended jams throughout their set. I enjoyed an unexpected musical cover toward the end of the set of The Outfield’s “Your Love.” I’m not sure if many others in the venue were familiar with the song though.  Check out their first official music video of their song “Dusk ‘Til Dawn.”

Layover Performs at Blind Tiger

Layover Performs at Blind Tiger

Beta Play kicked off their set with a new song co-written with one of my favorite singers, Glen Phillips, (front man of the aforementioned Toad the Wet Sprocket),
called “The Way We Play.”  Tom has previously spoken that the impetus behind it is that feeling of being free, connected, and enjoying the moment you are in. “Innocent” is a firecracker of a song, included on the Tommy and the High Pilots album Only Human, and one of my favorites. This one always sounds fantastic live.

Next up was the first song on the newly released Beta Play EP, “I Am the Prey.” This feels like a dance club kind of number, which reminds me of early ’80s Duran Duran synth; however, I feel like there is something missing in the musical arrangement of this song, that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it needs a second voice responding in the chorus similar to what happens at the end. Or maybe it is additional instrumentation that could be added to create more atmosphere during the musically sparse verses. It is my only bit of constructive criticism on the EP; I am sure other people love this song just as it is!

Heaven is Under the Sun” lyrically covers a topic most people tend to experience at some point in their lives, which is another individual trying to impose his/her religious convictions on you and judging you for what you believe in/or your lack of belief. It is lyrically strong; one of my favorite lines is in reference to those who may be accepted into Heaven: “Invite me to your party, it’s an eternal one, but I’ve been tiny dancing, around with Elton John, you say he’s not allowed in; I wouldn’t go in without him.”

Mike Cantillon of Beta Play

Mike Cantillon of Beta Play

The best song on Only Human, Devil to Pay,” was re-worked and given a new title, “Do You Love Me,” for the new EP. The new version is a more brooding than the one on the previous album or the version on the Live at Studio Delux EP. This is such a well-written song, with perfect harmonies provided by Mike Cantillon. I could imagine this song performed in other music styles and it working.

Beta Play has been performing “Midnight Drive,” a tale of dewy-eyed young love/lust, for over a year. It was the song the band was in the middle of playing at their 2014 Christmas show, which I attended, when Tom received a massive electric shock on stage that closed down the show and sent him to the ER. This near-death experience was part of his inspiration in writing the next song they played, which is the second track on the new EP, “Electric 22.”  With its themes of youth, life choices, and death, slow-grinding chorus, and introspective and musically robust bridge, Electric 22 is perfection. (I’ve borrowed a line from the bridge for the blog post title.) This song should be getting some serious radio play on a variety of music-oriented formats (any stations that would play The Killers should be broadcasting Beta Play’s songs). Check out Beta Play’s official music video of “Electric 22” or see the performance of the song as recorded at the EP release show.

Tom Cantillon of Beta Play

Tom Cantillon of Beta Play

Beta Play’s cover of Talking Heads song, “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” is a classic crowd-pleaser (link is to a recorded version of this song from Live From Studio Delux EP). At every show, Tom remarks, “There is no such thing as a wrong dance move.” When they play this song, he always let’s loose with his own moves and often hops off the stage and dances with the fans while the band vamps and Mike Dyer keeps everyone moving with the bass line. It is a great way of getting the crowd fired up. Tom is also riveting to watch as a performer; you can see how completely the music is part of him when he is on stage. He has that X factor thing in spades.

Next up was another great song with strong vocals, “Somebody Make a Move,” from Only Human, which also has a version on Live From Studio Delux. This contains my favorite misheard lyric. The line is, “Time is going to heal you,” but some people hear it as, “Tommy’s going to heal you.” Though Tom can be a humble guy and likely wouldn’t write such a self-referential lyric, I am sure many fans agree that Tom’s music has helped them through all sorts of difficulties.

Beta Play finished the set with the last song on the new EP, “It’s About Fucking Time.” This is a powerful song with lyrics about experiencing divorce from a child’s point of view. This song builds musically as it progresses to its strong, practically cathartic, bridge. It concludes with the other three band members repeatedly singing “We all lift each other up” under Tom’s emotional vocal delivery of the refrain. This is a masterfully written and arranged song and gives me a lot of hope for where the band is headed in their future music.

For the encore, the band decided to lighten the mood after the previous heavy number with a cover of Michael Jackson’s song, “The Way You Make Me Feel” (link is from the backyard cookout the previous week).  You can tell these guys love music and they stand on the shoulders of the many different artists they listen to and learn from. They are not only good enough to convincingly cover the King of Pop, but to perform the song so as to simultaneously pull the whole crowd into that “living in the moment” feeling they wrote about in “The Way We Play,” which is a beautiful thing to witness. The song “Outta My Head” was a perfect choice for closing the show on a high energy level. A straight-up pop tune from Only Human, it has a ridiculously catchy chorus and a driving rhythm that begs to be danced to.

Beta Play is touring through the end of November with Plain White T’s and Matt McAndrew. Go see them, meet them after the show, and buy the EP and all the merchandise you can carry! If you love Tom’s voice like I do, and haven’t already bought the back catalog of Tommy and the High Pilots material, purchase their last album Only Human. Also worth having are Sawhorse Sessions, American Riviera, and Live at Studio Delux.

Put Down the Laptop and Get Outta That House

Some musicians are so much fun you have to see them more than once. Bass player, jazz scatting pro, and former American Idol contestant Casey Abrams is one of those guys. It just so happens that I was also already familiar with the two gentlemen opening for him on the night of October 7, 2015 at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach, CA.

First on stage for the night was alt-country singer Danny Hamilton. I’d seen Danny a few months earlier at the same venue opening for Dana Fuchs and picked up one of his self-recorded albums. I like the quality of his voice. He looks like he could be a cousin of Jason Mraz, but has a rich vocal tone more reminiscent of Eddie Vedder. Danny started off the night  playing guitar and singing one of his own tunes, “I’m Still Here,” an introspective ballad of toughing it out when things are difficult.

Then Danny invited singer Abby Hankins to join him on stage for the rest of his short set. She has a clear, bright voice that sounds great alongside Danny’s and they should keep performing together.  Providing additional support was bass player, Kalim. The pair sang a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s, Devils and Dust, and then another Danny Hamilton original, “Bury the Devil,” which a few years ago took Danny to second place in Country Music Television’s Music City Madness contest.

Abby Hankins and Danny Hamilton Performing at Saint Rocke

Abby Hankins and Danny Hamilton Performing at Saint Rocke

Danny switched from guitar to ukulele for the next few original songs, including a newer one called, “Love is the Way.” This was followed by a quirky tune called “The Jester’s Aubade,” which has been used on the show My Life as Liz. The next song was called “Soul Shine.” They closed with a pretty cover of The Civil Wars’ song, “From This Valley” — the linked video is of Danny and Abby performing this song almost a year earlier at the same venue.

Local musician, Nick Shattuck, played the middle set of the night. He also played a set of seven songs, though some of them I do not know the names of. A singer-songwriter with a strong sense of rhythm, his clear love of nature shows up lyrically in several of the songs he performs. He particularly seems to be inspired by water (rivers/ocean). The first song he played included the line “The waves explode onto the shore line” and the second one, “In this flash of time we are water on the coast line.”  His third song, written on the banks of the Mississippi, was “Follow the River,” which is from his first album Chorus and VerseAccentuating his songs perfectly that evening was violinist Jesse Olema.

Nick’s most recently recorded work is an EP is called Up Late, Dreaming. He played three songs from it, including: “The Lives We Lead,” a song about moving from Wisconsin to the L.A. area; “Your Heart,” which was the first song he wrote after moving; and the title track “Up Late, Dreaming.”  He also played a brand new song called “Etta James,” which was my favorite tune of his of the night.

Nick Shattuck Performing at Saint Rocke

Nick Shattuck Performing at Saint Rocke

The ever dynamic Casey Abrams appeared on stage with keyboard player, Quenton Zigler, and drummer, Henry. He kicked off his set with a few tunes from his self-titled album: “Get Out,” “A Boy Can Dream,” and “Simple Life” (the title of this post is borrowed from a line in this song). He played a rocking new song called “Shining a Light.”  Then he dipped back into his album for tunes “Dry Spell” (the linked video is from that night) and “Stuck in London.”

Casey Abrams Performing at Saint Rocke

Casey Abrams Performing at Saint Rocke

Haley Reinhart Performing at Saint Rocke

Haley Reinhart Performing at Saint Rocke

Casey had a special surprise in store for the audience as he welcomed singer Haley Reinhart to the stage (also a former American Idol contestant). These two have been performing together on and off since their season of A.I. and they make a fantastic pair. They performed a new song that is most likely called “Never Knew What Love Can Do.” (I’ve also seen it noted as “Never Knew What Love Could Do” — follow the link for the video taken at Saint Rocke).  Only one song was performed with Haley, but it was a highlight of the night. Casey followed it up with a fantastic cover of Sam Cooke’s song “Lost and Lookin’.”

Things started loosening up on stage at this point. There were a few amusing minutes of playing parts of songs requested from the audience, including the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood theme song. Casey took over on the keyboard and Quenton moved to trombone for a soulful rendition of R Kelly’s ballad, “I Believe I Can Fly.” Back on his bass, another cover Casey played was “Why Don’t You Do Right?,” a jazz standard with many versions, but perhaps most well known from the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Casey returned to his own catalog for the final three numbers, first playing a super uptempo version of “Ghosts” and then a straightforward one of “Blame it on Me.” He closed the night with his funky song “Cougar Town.”

I felt so appreciative to be able to get out and witness this fun evening of music with all three of these acts. Casey, particularly, is such an entertaining and talented performer, it is definitely worth taking the time to see him perform live.  Casey is touring with Postmodern Jukebox in November and December. Catch them if they are playing near you!

Casey Abrams Performing at Saint Rocke

Casey Abrams Performing at Saint Rocke

My Oh My, What a Wonderful Day We’re Having (Part 2, BGS)

The Bluegrass Situation Festival Main Stage Banner, The Greek Theater, October 3, 2015Continued from:

“Would You Stop and Hear What I Would Say (Part 1, BGS)”

I entered the Greek Theater main stage of the Bluegrass Situation Festival on October 3, 2015 to discover Jonny Fritz already onstage, accompanied on guitar by Dawes front man, Taylor Goldsmith. I only heard a couple songs before he finished his set. He has a relaxed presence on stage, such that I thought perhaps he was still sound checking while I was finding my seat (I thought there might have been an announcement when the main stage performances began, but there wasn’t). Fritz’s latest album is called Dad Country. When he is not playing music, he does some neat leather work, including guitar straps, so check out his website if you are in the market for such things.

Hailing from Nashville, all female group Della Mae took the stage next with their country-tinged bluegrass music. What a treat to see these five ladies perform; each of them were fantastic musicians, with Kimber Ludiker on fiddle and Jenni Lyn Gardner on mandolin particularly standing out. All of the ladies had strong, pretty voices that blended together so well and they also took turns singing lead.  Songs from their set included three off their self-titled album released earlier this year: “Rude Awakening,” “Good Blood,” and “Long Shadow.” They also played a traditional bluegrass breakdown, lead by fiddler Kimber Ludiker, with Celia Woodsmith on guitar, and Jenni Lyn Gardner on mandolin, each taking solos that let their talents shine. They finished their set with a faithful cover of the Rolling Stones’ song “No Expectations.”

Could there be a more humble musician than Gregory Alan Isakov? Never once during his set did he introduce himself or his band, which consisted of himself on guitar, an electric guitar player, a fiddler, and a bass player. Some of the songs from his set included: “Saint Valentine” from his most recent album The Weatherman; “The Stable Song” from That Sea, That Gambler; “That Moon Song” from This Empty Northern Hemisphere; and a new song with the line “Couldn’t find no love from the angels above nor the devil down below,” which will be on a forthcoming album; and one titled “Liars.”

Gregory Alan Isakov Performs at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Gregory Alan Isakov Performs at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

I haven’t seen Isakov before and I am not very familiar with his songs, so there were a couple more that I missed noting down. He writes poetic lyrics underscored by mellow musical accompaniment that lull the listener from the beginning to the end of the song, like small waves lapping rhythmically on a beach. Though the band’s sound was big enough to fill the space, I felt like I should be watching them in a more intimate venue.

I had heard of The Lone Bellow before, but I hadn’t listened to any of their music  before this concert. I didn’t write down any of the lyrics for the first song that they played because I spent the whole time dumbfounded by how great the music coming from this group was! Their strong, tight, three-part harmonies, exquisite melodies, and a full-sounding musical arrangement with driving rhythms fully grabbed my attention.  Hearing them live, I instantly became a fan.

The Lone Bellow Performs at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Brian Elmquist, Zach Williams, and Kanene Donehey Pipkin of The Lone Bellow Performing at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Their set included a mixture of songs from their self-titled album and this year’s release, Then Came the Morning, including: “If You Don’t Love Me,” “The One You Should’ve Let Go,” “You Never Need Nobody,” “Fake Roses,” “Marietta,” “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold,” “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home,” “Watch Over Us” (with guitar player Brian Elmquist on lead vocals), “Call to War” (with Kanene Donehey Pipkin turning in a lovely performance on lead vocals), and “Teach Me to Know.” Lead singer and guitarist Zach Williams certainly put 100% effort into his dynamic performance and was clearly appreciative to be playing in the historic Greek Theater. They finished with the title track of their latest album “Then Came The Morning,” dividing the audience in two and having them singing the “ahs” of this song in harmony in the background. Immediately following their set, my friend and I headed to the merch table and I bought their two CDs — and you should buy their albums too. I would definitely like to see this band perform again in the future.

My Oh My, what a wonderful day we’re having,” sang Punch Brothers as they began their set with a tune off their last album The Phosphorescent Blues (and I’ve borrowed this lyric for the title of this post as it fits the wonderful day I had at the Bluegrass Situation Festival). Their set contained a mixture of songs and genres, including songs from prior albums, traditional bluegrass-styled numbers, and Debussy arranged for bluegrass instruments.  Led by mandolin player extraordinaire and lead singer, Chris Thile, and featuring highly accomplished musicians Gabe Witcher on fiddle, Chris Eldridge on guitar, Noam Pikelny on banjo, and Paul Kowert on bass, Punch Brothers is one of my current favorite bands to watch live and the reason I attended this festival. These guys do some amazingly innovative songwriting, yet somehow still keep it accessible to the average music fan.

Punch Brothers Performs at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Punch Brothers Performs at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

After “My Oh My,” the band jumped into another song from the same album, “Boll Weevil.” One I hadn’t heard Punch Brothers perform live before was “Watch ‘at Breakdown ,” which allowed all the members to shine and included some impressive banjo picking from Noam Pikelny. Chris Thile then sang lead on a few festival/newcomer friendly tunes: “This Girl” and “Clara” from the album Who’s Feeling Young Now and “Rye Whiskey” from Antifogmatic. Just when you thought they might be keeping it light all night, the band broke into their 10-minute plus mini masterpiece that opens the album The Phosphorescent Blues, “Familiarity.” This song sees fiddler Gabe Witcher doing double duty — playing percussion on stage. It is incredible to see this song live; it illustrates just how much they are pushing themselves to explore playing their instruments in non-traditional ways.  “Brakeman’s Blues” steered us back to the bluegrass theme. Then they performed their beautiful interpretation of Debussy’s “Passipied.” We were treated to a more modern jam with “New York City.” Next a sweet ode to “Julep,” followed by the lightning fast playing of “Flippen (The Flip),” and ending with the alluring energy of “Magnet.” Though it was a pretty full set, the gentlemen left the stage leaving me wanting to hear more.

Closing the show was the band, Dawes, who have managed to hone in on the sound of the famous Laurel Canyon songwriters and bring it into the 21st century. I have a couple of their albums, which I have found quite enjoyable. They are a good live band, but what really gave them superstar power at the festival was the addition of guitarist, Duane Betts, playing a gorgeous gold top Gibson. I feel like he took their music to another level.

Duane Betts and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes Performing at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Duane Betts and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes Performing at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

They launched their set with the first song off their recent album All Your Favorite Bands, “Things Happen.” This song has held a poignant message for me lately and I was glad to hear it live.  Next up was the song “From the Right Angle,” which is on the album Stories Don’t End, and had an awesome guitar solo at the end. A couple more from the recent album were performed: “Right On Time” and “Somewhere Along the Way.” They made the day feel easy when they played “If I Wanted Someone” from the album Nothing Is Wrong. “From a Window Seat” was next, also from Stories Don’t End. The song “Fire Away” was played. I was happy to hear “It’s a Little Bit of Everything” in the set, as that was the song that made me take notice of Dawes as interesting lyric writers on my first listen through Nothing Is Wrong. Next was “When My Time Comes,” which has the thought-provoking line, “So I took what I wanted and put it out of my reach, I wanted to pay for my successes with all my defeats.” This was followed by the song “Most People.” The band closed out their set with the tune “All Your Favorite Bands,” which felt a little ironic as they sang “And we hope that All Your Favorite Bands stay together,” as the band had recently announced the departure of keyboardist, Tay Strathairn.

For a festival encore, Dawes stayed on stage and brought out members from each of the other bands that had graced the main stage for a singalong to Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” What remained of the crowd joined in for a stirring close to the long day of music.

Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Encore at the Bluegrass Situation Festival

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Encore at the Bluegrass Situation Festival